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John McCarthy, Father of Artificial Intelligence, just passed away. I just read an article about him, which stated that

he championed mathematical logic for Artificial Intelligence.

I am not sure of the meaning of champion, although I have seen it used in several similar occasions. I just looked it up and assume that it means to defend or to support.

My intuition is that champion could be the very word we should think of in the first place in this context. Is that true? Could any other word be a better alternative here?

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It's an adjective in the Midlands (UK) — "that's champion". – Chris S Oct 25 '11 at 13:57
"Champion verb: champion something to fight for or speak in support of a group of people or a belief" — Ofxord Advanced Learner's Dictionary. No research done, voting to close as general reference. – Kris Sep 21 '12 at 12:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

To champion something is to promote it.

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Yes. To 'champion' in this context, means to be its defender and protector. In your example, John McCarthy being the champion of mathematical logic for AI means he argued in favor of that approach to achieving AI.

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The previous two posters are right. Champion is first recorded as a verb in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, although with a different meaning from that in your example. It was first used figuratively in the sense ‘maintain the cause of, stand up for, uphold, support, back, defend, advocate’ in 1844. (Source: OED)

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Is that really a different meaning from the example above? It seems to be exactly what John McFarthy did for AI (except, probably, for physically defending it, but I'm not even sure about that). – Joachim Sauer Oct 25 '11 at 6:38
No, it isn't. It was the use in 'Macbeth' that was different. There it meant 'to challenge to a contest; to bid defiance to'. That meaning is now obsolete. – Barrie England Oct 25 '11 at 7:17
Oh, I see. Sorry I misread your post (I missed the "in 1844" part, interpreting it as "It was first used figuratively.") – Joachim Sauer Oct 25 '11 at 7:20

Consider the following:

  1. With the exception of this line in Macbeth III.1:

    come, fate, into the lists
    And champion me to the utterance

    the word champion is only used as a noun by Shakespeare.

  2. With one exception¹, champion as a noun in Shakespeare always has the clear meaning of “supporter or representative in a cause”.

With all due respect to Dr. Johnson’s interpretation of champion me as “fight against me”, is it not then possible that Macbeth is calling to fate to be his strong representative in his endeavours, despite the witches’ predictions? That is, “Come into the lists as my champion, and fight against whatever forces [Fortune, etc.] might oppose you.”

¹ The exception: In Venus and Adonis, Adonis is in one place referred to as “her [meaning Venus’s] champion” when Venus tries to compel Adonis to mount her. The metaphor here would appear to be Adonis = knight, Venus = knight’s steed, so that “her champion” = “her rider”.

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I think not. Macbeth has just been gnawing on the sisters' prophesy that Banquo is destined to father a line of kings which will wrench the scepter from Macbeth's hand. Fate is thus the champion of Banquo's line, and it is in that capacity that Macbeth challenges fate. – StoneyB Sep 21 '12 at 12:23
Isn't this going at a tangent to OP's context? Or at least, much farther than it warrants? :) – Kris Sep 21 '12 at 12:35

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