Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Oh Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo

I am constantly surprised by the fact that I can still be constantly surprised by the things I find on the Internet. I have two interesting things to share today.

The first is the blog "My First Dictionary," where you'll find 1950s-era illustrations for words combined with example sentences that you hope you never see in an actual children's illustrated dictionary. It's a fun little creative blog that you ought to frequent. I love this blog so much, I 'm adding it to my blogroll.

The second is what I reference in the title of this post. I was Stumbling around the Internet the other day, and I landed on the Wikipedia entry for, believe it or not "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." This, says William J. Rappaport, is a grammatical and complete sentence that illustrates the use of homonyms and homophones.

The meaning of the sentence relies on these definitions:

  • Capital-B Buffalo refers to the city of Buffalo, NY. In the three instances it's used in this sentence, it is used as a descriptor for a noun, aka an adjective.
  • One of the lowercase-b buffaloes refers to the animal. The author uses buffalo as a plural noun, like moose and sheep, in place of the more common buffaloes.
  • Lowercase-b buffalo is also used as a verb to mean "to bully, confuse, deceive, or intimidate."

Here is the same sentence with indication of how each word is being used:

Buffaloa buffalon Buffaloa buffalon buffalov buffalov Buffaloa buffalon.

Wikipedia offers a few clarifications of the meaning of the sentence; this is the one that makes the most sense to me. Replacing bison for the animal buffalo, and bully for the verb buffalo, the new sentence looks like this:

Buffalo bison Buffalo bison bully bully Buffalo bison.


The Buffalo bison that Buffalo bison bully also bully Buffalo bison.

You can read the Wikipedia article for more info and clarification.

Not one to just absorb information, especially when it relates to wordplay, I immediately began racking my brain to come up with another (and hopefully better) example of this type of sentence. It isn't easy. the best I've come up with, so far, is to turn

Harrison Ford battles infighting among the Star Wars cast.


Star Wars star wars Star Wars star wars.


Mechanical movie shark head talks about the statements made by backup mechanical movie shark head.


Jaws jaws jaws Jaws jaws jaws.

All right, that one's a stretch. Here's one along the same lines:

The squat squatting squatter squats squat squatter's squat.

Got anything better? (If you want to cheat, see Wikipedia's List of linguistic example sentences.)