Artwiculate and the Botliminal

Twitter followers will be aware of and possibly annoyed by my addiction to Artwiculate, a contest to write the most popular tweet containing the word of the day, as determined by votes filtered through an opaque, unreliable and vulnerable scoring system.

The best part of the game is reading the entries, but I find myself taking an incidental pleasure in the game’s often inaccurate official definitions. At first I assumed that these were bugs in whatever software was picking the words: many of the errors involve the definition of a word which might be the target word’s nearest match in whatever dictionary is being used. For example, for misqueme (to offend or displease):

misqueme To incorrectly recite a quote; To incorrectly record a quote.

Although this already shows a glimmer of Artwiculate’s inadvertent wit, my first theory was too simple. Some errors give the definition of words which were phonetically or semantically related to the word of the day, but nowhere near it in the dictionary. For phalerate (to adorn or ornament), Artwiculate gave the definition of chlorate:

phalerate Any salt of chloric acid; chlorates are powerful oxidizing agents.

This could be explained by a more complicated search, possibly based on word stems, and the near-miss nature of the mistakes, had convinced me that a technical error was to blame: why would a human make mistakes that could be corrected with a Google search? And could a human have posted the following?

bupkes alternative spelling of bupkis

Unless, of course, they were having a lend of us by giving a definition which was worth precisely bupkes. But witty mistakes were far too few to be deliberate.

By this stage, I was finding it hard to imagine how either software or a person could be responsible. I realised that the Artwiculate definer had, in my imagination, acquired a personality: it was impenetrable, dense and yet, somehow, sly, neither quite human nor obviously robotic. I disagree with The New Aesthetic partly because I have an aesthetic objection to its name and partly because Bruce Sterling thinks it’s cool, but enjoyment of this state of uncertainty as to whether a voice is human or artificial, the botliminal, to coin a term, should certainly be part of their program. An aestheticisation of the Turing Test. Another example is Horse_ebooks.

And just when I’d decided to stop worrying and love the inaccuracies, Artwiculate dropped this sublime masterpiece, which proved my point. Artwiculate, don’t go changing.

duende A city in Scotland

As I said in my entry that day:

I’ve lived all o’er Clotsand
From Glowgas to Earbende,
In Neversins and Hidengrub,
But there’s no town like Duende.


2 responses to “Artwiculate and the Botliminal

  1. I’m really glad you noticed this, because I have too. The skewed definitions in #Artwiculate undergo an abnormal semantic parallax. It’s certainly not a 1-off array index bug. ‘Botliminal’ is an excellent term for the dimly perceived intelligence behind it.

    On the other hand, I can’t stand Horse_ebooks (or zizek_ebooks, or NA_ebooks, etc.) anymore. Lots of Twitter people I know retweet these accounts as if the tendency of the mind to make sense of Markov chatter is endlessly fascinating.

    Jury’s out on the New Aesthetic, but as you say, the name’s devoid of meaning, which can’t be a good start. Most articles about it leave me thinking ‘No! No! Wrong, wrong, wrong!’ as well.

  2. Pingback: "Just when I’d decided to stop worrying and love the inaccuracies..."

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