ChatGPT on Churchill Quotes: Yes, We Have No Bananas

ChatGPT on Churchill Quotes: Yes, We Have No Bananas


Many have heard of Chat­G­PT, a lan­guage mod­el chat­bot devel­oped by Ope­nAI based on GPT-3. “It has a remark­able abil­i­ty to inter­act in con­ver­sa­tion­al dia­logue form and pro­vide respons­es that can appear sur­pris­ing­ly human.” Recent­ly, users have asked Chat­G­PT for Churchill quotes or speech­es on all man­ner of subjects—and even essays about Churchill—which are remark­ably convincing.

Steve Forbes, who advo­cates a return to the Gold Stan­dard, asked Chat­G­PT for a Churchill speech sup­port­ing it. (As Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer in 1924-29, Churchill returned Britain to Gold, for which he received much crit­i­cism.) Chat­G­PT pro­vid­ed Forbes with a con­vinc­ing tran­script that sound­ed just like Churchill, but con­tained noth­ing he ever uttered or wrote. Chat­G­PT is also able to cough up gen­uine Churchill quotes. Unfor­tu­nate­ly they have also mis­tak­en­ly scanned many things he nev­er said, and occa­sion­al­ly dis­gorge these, too.

No bananas

(Pho­to by Ger­ar­dola­gunes, Cre­ative Commons)

My col­league John Plump­ton records one case, how­ev­er, where Chat­G­PT was stumped. A user asked the chat­bot for Churchill quotes relat­ing to bananas. Here is the reply. (John writes: “I trust you have not lost your sense of humour”…)

We’re sor­ry, but it doesn’t appear that Win­ston Churchill ever made any quotes specif­i­cal­ly about bananas. How­ev­er, we can pro­vide some fic­tion­al quotes that use his style and ref­er­ences to bananas….

Their fic­tion­al quotes are hilar­i­ous, and show the range of ChatGPT’s scans of Churchill’s actu­al words:

Bananas are the fruit of victory.

We shall fight on the beach­es, we shall fight on the land­ing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…we shall nev­er sur­ren­der to a lack of bananas.

Nev­er in the field of human con­sump­tion was so much owed by so many to so few bananas.

It is a good thing for an une­d­u­cat­ed man to eat a banana.

But yes, he had some bananas

The only prob­lem with all this is that Churchill did say things about bananas…. Thanks to the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project’s scans of his 20 mil­lion pub­lished words, we have Chat­G­PT right where we want them:

A man walk­ing down the street is con­front­ed by a costermonger’s bar­row filled with bananas. (Laugh­ter.) I think it a great achieve­ment, reflect­ing the utmost hon­our and cred­it upon all who were con­cerned in it, that this fruit—I will say deli­cious fruit, although I am not myself par­tial to it—which con­tains so many valu­able food and fuel con­stituents, which a few years ago was the curi­ous lux­u­ry of the rich, has now become an arti­cle of fre­quent con­sump­tion amongst the mass­es of the peo­ple. (Hear, hear.)  —WSC, Adel­phia Hotel, Liv­er­pool, 5 May 1906 (Com­plete Speech­es, 1974, 8 vols., I: 622.)


Churchill also made sev­er­al ref­er­ences to bananas in his 1908 African travelogue:

Kam­pala, the home of 60,000 per­sons, is per­ma­nent­ly invis­i­ble. The whole town is buried under the leaves of innu­mer­able banana plan­ta­tions, which afford shade and food to its peo­ple, and amid which their huts are thick­ly scat­tered and absolute­ly con­cealed. —WSC, My African Jour­ney (Leo Coop­er edi­tion 1989, 69.)

And as Prime Min­is­ter three decades lat­er, he hadn’t lost his regard, despite his per­son­al dis­taste, for the sta­ple fruit of the tropics:

I should be much oblig­ed if you would let me know the rea­sons which have made it nec­es­sary to stop the import of bananas alto­geth­er.” —WSC to Lord Woolton (Min­is­ter of Food), 29 Novem­ber 1940 (The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 15, Nev­er Sur­ren­der, May-Decem­ber 1940. 2011, 1159.)

“Let not the slothful chortle”

Ian Lang­worth, who plies the trade of soft­ware engi­neer in Sil­i­con Val­ley, reminds us not to be too com­pla­cent about all this. Chat­G­PT has only been around for a few years. “Give them anoth­er five and they’ll prob­a­bly have picked up every word Churchill wrote.” (And why not? More and more of it is falling into the pub­lic domain.)

So, before we lazi­ly laugh at the tech boffins’ fail­ure accu­rate­ly to pin­point the Great Man’s every word, we might stop to con­sid­er: They are just get­ting started.

As WSC was wont to say on occa­sion: “Let not the sloth­ful chortle.”

2 thoughts on “ChatGPT on Churchill Quotes: Yes, We Have No Bananas

  1. We are in Madeira for the 2023 Atlantic Con­fer­ence at Churchill Bay in Cama­ra de Lobos, where Churchill paint­ed on his vis­it to the island in 1950. Cast­ing our eyes upward on the hills above the town, we can see row upon row of bananas grow­ing: indeed they are and for many decades have been the main crop grown on the island. Churchill could not have failed to notice them and may well have eat­en dish­es cooked with bananas while he was here. We enjoyed see­ing his suite this after­noon at Reid’s Hotel and the din­ing room where he took his meals.

  2. Apro­pos bananas, with the Churchill tour to Africa in 1999, I was on the obser­va­tion deck of a train descend­ing from the Natal plateau to Koomatipoort on the bor­der with Mozam­bique with Ambas­sador Paul and Mrs. Robin­son. We were pass­ing mile after mile of what were obvi­ous­ly banana plan­ta­tions. They were drink­ing gin and ton­ics (I think) and hav­ing a smoke. Mrs. R said, “Paul, what are all those plants?” With a sweep­ing ges­ture of his hand he replied in that deep, loud voice of his, “My dear, they are tobac­co.” Then she said, “Oh good. Stop the train.” You can’t make this stuff up.

    Fun. Paul real­ly slipped on that peel. RML

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