Tuesday, November 28, 2006


A very strange sentence:
“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”
Don’t spin your wheels trying to figure it out just yet.

Start here:
Suppose that dogs chase cats, which then chase mice. Another way of saying this is: “Cats that dogs chase, chase mice.”

Because the comma and the word “that” aren’t needed, we can say:
“Cats dogs chase chase mice.”

Cats also chase other cats, so we could say:
“Cats dogs chase chase cats.”

Cats can also be chased by other cats:
“Cats cats chase chase cats.”

Now lean back and look at this next sentence. This is the basic structure of that long buffalo sentence. Let’s think about buffalo chasing other buffalo:
“Buffalo buffalo chase chase buffalo”.

In other words:
“Buffalo that buffalo chase, chase buffalo.”

Next, you need to know the existence of the verb “to buffalo.” It means to push around, deceive, or intimdate. So instead of chasing, let’s make these buffalo push each other around:
“Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo”.

That means:
“Buffalo that buffalo push around, push around buffalo.”

Now let’s talk about specific buffalo:
Buffalo from the zoo in Buffalo, New York. These particular buffalo are Buffalo buffalo; just as lions in the Buffalo Zoo are Buffalo lions.

That being said, here’s the next step:
“Buffalo buffalo that Buffalo buffalo push around, push around Buffalo buffalo.”

And finally:
“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo”.

This graphic might make it easier. I know I have to read the above sentence a few times before I "get it" again.

Simplified parse tree
PN = proper noun
N = noun
V = verb
NP = noun phrase
RC = relative clause
VP = verb phrase
S = sentence

One of many sources: Wikipedia


How about a sentence with the word "and" in it five times in a row:
“When you drew that Fish-And-Chips sign, you should have put a hyphen between Fish and and and and and Chips.”

Even more:
Dogs dogs dog dog dogs.
Mice cats chase eat cheese.


jules said...

Hurt, hurt...brain seizure. Ouch.
PLEASE tell me that won't be on my test! Oh, and the spanking, yes, please!

Anonymous said...

Jules, I get the clamps reading this post. English was my third language to study. We have a *ahem* Nazi professor. I see sentence broken down into structures like the one in your post and my brain hurts. :)

Actually, I should really start reading your post now because I am learning something. It's like having a class and I can play hokey anytime I want to...what could be better than that? :)

Anonymous said...

Err...Karlos I mean. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jules, OUCH! I know I could use a LOT of help when it comes to writing though.
I understand the kids graduating high school and sometimes college now days can't write at all. I would think with all of the texting they do that wouldn't be the case. I guess they don't use punctuation and use slang for what they write.

Karlos said...

Yes...it hurt my brain too. I still can't look at the sentence and "see" it without going through the steps, or at least the last few of them.

P.M. Prescott said...

Remarkable post. I am impressed.

Anonymous said...

It's a little scary that this makes sense to me.

Karlos said...

PM Prescott: I wish I could take credit for it. I’m not sure where this stuff originated.

Seventh Sister: Yes, very scary! :-)