A friend of mine asked a generative AI (Nova: Powered by ChatGPT & GPT 3.5 Turbo) about the difference between whittling and wood carving. This is the response she got:
Wood carving and whittling have been practised for thousands of years, dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and Greeks. The early humans used wood carving to make various objects like weapons, tools, utensils, and figurines.
It is believed that the practice of carving wood began as an extension of the use of stone tools, as people realized that wood was a more versatile material than stone. Over time, wood carving became a widely practiced art form, with artisans developing diverse styles and techniques.
Whittling, on the other hand, is a type of wood carving that involves using a knife to remove a small amount of wood from a larger piece. It is believed to have originated in Europe during the Middle Ages, where it was primarily used to make simple household objects like wooden spoons, bowls, and cups.
Whittling gained popularity in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it became a popular hobby for colonists and pioneers. Today, wood carving and whittling remain popular artistic expressions, and practitioners continue to develop new styles, techniques, and forms.
This reminds me of something a not-very-bright fourth grader would turn in after consulting the encyclopedia and visiting the local branch library. Bad paraphrasing of randomly selected factual (or maybe not) statements strung together into paragraphs that are tenuously cohesive and sometimes self-contradictory. With a little fluff thrown in to show that it really was the student’s work. The student would receive a “C” for such work if the teacher were especially kind and impressed with the diligent research, good spelling (although there’s that curious use of “practised” rather than “practiced”), and penmanship.
That said, the article does answer the question: whittling is a type of wood carving. The rest of the article is mostly gibberish, sprinkled as it is with unsupported factual statements, uninformed speculation, and known falsehoods. But whittling really is a type of wood carving.
Exactly what constitutes whittling is an open question. Merriam-Webster defines “whittle” as a transitive verb:
1a. to pare or cut off chips from the surface of (wood) with a knife
1b. to shape or form by so paring or cutting
2. to reduce, remove, or destroy gradually as if by cutting off bits with a knife
By that definition, whittling is wood carving done with a knife. If you are carving wood with a knife, you are whittling. According to the dictionary. But that definition is not universally accepted. If you ask five wood carvers the difference, you’re going to get at least five answers. In my experience, most of those answers are of the “I know it when I see it” variety. Some say that it has to do with the level of planning involved. But everybody’s line is set differently. To some, anything more complex than a sharpened stick is “carving.” To others, anything carved from a stick found on the ground is “whittling.” Some put a time limit on it. Others base their judgement on the quality or purpose of the final product. My primitive carved knives and forks might be “whittling,” for example, but my friend’s beautifully carved and decorated (all using just a knife) replica dagger is a “carving.”
I like the dictionary definition. All the other definitions implicitly and sometimes not so implicitly make value judgements that amount to “whittling is just passing time, whereas carving is creating something of value.”
In any case, I’d be interested to know if anybody would find the AI-generated response to be anything other than gibberish. Elementary and secondary educators should be exposing students to this type of answer and pointing out the obvious flaws (unsupported and contradictory statements, wandering paragraphs, etc.) so that students can learn to spot them. It’ll be a while (decades, at least) before these generative AIs can write a freshman term paper that would get past an instructor who’s paying attention. It’s probably a good idea to be able to spot AI-generated content so you don’t make the mistake of depending on it.