“Wow,” you may be thinking, “that is a whole lot of buffalo up there.”
Following some additional reflection, you may add: “Buckley is kind of an idiot.”
But there is a method to my, uh, stupid. Here’s the deal. This:
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
…is a valid, meaningful, grammatically correct English sentence.
Let’s take it a step at a time.
We’ll start by pointing out that the word “buffalo” has three different meanings. First, it’s a big, hairy animal, also known as a bison. Second, when capitalized, it’s the city of Buffalo in New York state. And finally, in a rather obscure definition, it’s a verb that can mean “to bully or intimidate.” As in, “She didn’t want to go to the party, but he buffaloed her into agreeing.”
Yes, that is pretty weird.
So how does that help us make sense of this explosion of buffalo I’m calling a sentence?
We’ll start with the first two words: “Buffalo buffalo”. This is the subject of the sentence. The first “Buffalo” is the city in New York, and the second “buffalo” is the animal. “Buffalo buffalo” are big hairy animals from that city in New York. You could use the same subject by saying “Buffalo buffalo don’t like cotton candy,” for instance. The buffalo in Chicago might be crazy about cotton candy, but not so much the Buffalo buffalo.
With me so far?
The next three words are “Buffalo buffalo buffalo”. Once again, the first one’s the city, the second one’s the animal – and now the third one is that verb, “to bully.” So in the sentence overall, we’re talking about Buffalo buffalo (the animals from the city) that Buffalo buffalo buffalo (that other animals from the city have decided to bully).
We haven’t gotten to the main verb of the sentence yet – we’re still giving more information about the subject. We’re saying that these aren’t just any Buffalo buffalo. Rather, these are specifically the ones that “Buffalo buffalo buffalo” – the ones that get bullied by other animals from the same city. Really, this sentence would be a lot less confusing if we added the word “that.” Then it would read “Buffalo buffalo that Buffalo buffalo buffalo…” But of course, that would be too easy.
Okay, so we’ve established the subject of the sentence: these sad and pathetic New York bison that are getting pushed around by other New York bison. But what are these guys actually doing? What is the sentence about? Enter the last three words: “buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” This time, the first word is the verb, “to bully.” That’s what they’re doing. And who are they bullying? The last two words: “Buffalo buffalo.” They’re bullying other bison in New York.
So these pitiful creatures, whom we felt so bad for previously, turn out to be pretty mean themselves. Even though they’re being bullied (buffaloed) by other Buffalo buffalo, they themselves have decided to bully (buffalo) yet other Buffalo buffalo. Awfully rude, if you ask me.
So there you have it: a complete English sentence. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. If you’re still having trouble parsing this thing, its structure is the same as this sentence: “Chicago bison [that] Chicago bison bully, bully Chicago bison.” And if that didn’t help either, well, the thing even has its own Wikipedia article where it’s explained in even greater depth, complete with sentence diagram.
Who came up with this monstrosity, anyway? One William J. Rapaport, a professor at – where else? – the University of Buffalo. Oddly enough, he’s interested in AI, just like me.
So, did the sentence make sense to you? Are you still lost? Making a personal promise never to visit this blog again? Let me know in the comments!