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Words & Writing > Eight buffalo tried to impress a girl from the city

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message 1: by Yulia (last edited Aug 04, 2010 07:50PM) (new)

Yulia | 1625 comments Some guy trying to impress me said that "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" was a grammatical English sentence.

He wrote:

The trick here is that "buffalo" can be a noun, an adjective, and a verb.

Noun: the large mammal, obviously. :)
Adjective: Buffalo the city, as in "a Buffalo man" meaning a "man from Buffalo." Hence "Buffalo buffalo" are buffalo from Buffalo.
Verb: Somewhat disused, but nevertheless valid, "to buffalo" means "to intimidate."

It helps to break down the phrasing like this:

"Buffalo buffalo / Buffalo buffalo buffalo / buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

"Buffalo [from:] Buffalo / [that other:] Buffalo [from:] Buffalo [buffalo/intimidate:] / [buffalo/intimidate:] [other:] Buffalo [from:] Buffalo."

Now, does his explanation make any sense? I've been thinking about this for two days now and it still doesn't work for me. The longest string of buffalo I can come up with is, "Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo Buffalo," which can be explained as, "New York bison intimidate upstate Joe."

What do you think? Can eight buffalo be strung together and be grammatical without semicolons or commas, or is five the maximum?

message 2: by Carol (new)

Carol | 6975 comments Buffalo(Bison) (from) Buffalo(city(and another )Buffalo (from) Buffalo(city) Buffalo(intimidates)(that another )Buffalo(from) Buffalo. I could only get 7

message 3: by Yulia (new)

Yulia | 1625 comments But wouldn't that necessitate an "and" after the first two buffalo?

message 4: by Carol (new)

Carol | 6975 comments Buffalo(bison) Buffalo(City) Buffalo(intimidate)Buffalo(bison)Buffalo(city)Buffalo(intimidates)Buffalo(bison) Buffalo (city)

message 5: by Melissa (new)

Melissa (Melissaharl) | 1345 comments I've heard a version of this that was a long string of the word "that."

I think it "works," though it's tautological and relies on one or two other English peculiarities -- that we can omit relative pronouns (who, what, which, that) and also forms of the verb "to be". Then we can sometimes imply other things and goof with the word order.

The sentence "Those guys are scary" could be spelled out more elaborately:

"What the people who are in the circus which is from Chicago that is here in town do is scare me."


"(What) the people who are in the circus which is from Chicago that is here in town (do is) scare me."


"The people (who are) in the circus (which is) from Chicago (that is) here in town scare me."


"The people in the circus from Chicago (here) in town scare me."


"The people in the Chicago circus in town scare me."


"The Chicago circus people in town scare me."


"Those guys are scary."

In this case the capitalization of the city name helps figure out the parts of speech, though it leaves the first Buffalo word ambiguous. The way Yulia takes it gets us five or six words in, but there's another option. When we add in the implied pronouns and verb, and only use the word Buffalo in our "translation" to refer to the city, it seems to mean:

"Buffalo bison (that) Buffalo bison intimidate (are those that / also) intimidate Buffalo bison"

"B. b. B. b. b. b. B. b."

In normal English it could be:

"Scary bison from Buffalo scare bison from Buffalo (too)."

Anyway, come to think of it, I've never been to Buffalo, or ever met a circus guy from Chicago, so I could be all mixed up!

message 6: by j (last edited Aug 05, 2010 01:27PM) (new)

j (joeleoj) | 11 comments if the guy really wanted to impress you, he probably should have tried harder than cutting and pasting a wikipedia entry.

thanks for the sentence diagram, philip. this finally makes sense to me.

message 7: by John (last edited Aug 05, 2010 02:37PM) (new)

John Karr (Karr) | 50 comments Yeah ... all that redundant buffalo stuff is the vehicle that drives the mind to Crazytown.

But it is interesting in a purely theoretical sense.

message 8: by Yulia (new)

Yulia | 1625 comments Excellent job, Philip! Thanks so much for pulling apart the sentence for me! You're a fabulous teacher.

Joel, no, I wasn't impressed (or intellectually buffaloed) by the weak explanation the guy gave me of the eight buffalo. I haven't yet checked the wiki link to see if he copied the answer verbatim.

(Sorry it took me a week to reply, but I was/am in the process of moving and didn't have internet access till tonight.)

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