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Awkward sounding but grammatically correct sentences?

Why is the following statement valid, and how can I break it down so that it is easier to understand?

Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo

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Not just English! Have you seen the Mandarin "Shi shi" poem? –  MT_Head Jun 23 '11 at 7:13
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I feel a bit guilty getting an acceptance for my answer after I voted to close the question. I use Google Instant, and I only have to type in buffalo b to have the 5-word version suggested. After which the wikipedia link I posted up comes top of the list. I see little research effort there. –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 7:16
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Plenty of other similar sentences here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/2459/… –  Urbycoz Jun 23 '11 at 8:26
    
exact duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/q/18556 (itself closed as duplicate) –  TimLymington Jun 23 '11 at 9:49
    
@TimLymingon - If it is duplicate, allow me to delete it –  Sagar R. Kothari Jun 23 '11 at 10:07
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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Alenanno, Robusto, KitFox, psmears Jun 23 '11 at 12:36

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

To buffalo means to intimidate. Buffalo is a place as well as an animal (bison), so there are buffalo from Buffalo as well as buffalo from other places. And they can intimidate anything, including bisons.

If you really want the details, read it all here. It's semantically parseable, but you'd be lucky to find a context where you could meaningfully say it without sounding daft.

If you don't have time for the whole story, try this one, which is the breakdown for 11 consecutive 'buffalos' (beats OP's somewhat weedy 6!).

Bison from Buffalo [that other] bison from Buffalo intimidate [also] intimidate bison from Buffalo [that other] bison from Buffalo intimidate.

LATER The constant repetition is obviously intended to be somewhat confusing, so this may make it easier to understand the sentence. Note that there are three senses of the word 'buffalo' being used; as a noun (meaning bison), an adjective (from the town of Buffalo), and a verb (to intimidate). Try substituting different words with similar syntactic usage, such as dogs, aggressive, and fight...

Aggressive cats [that other] aggressive cats fight [also] fight aggressive cats [that other] aggressive cats fight.

If that's still awkward, just accept that aggressive cats is simply a 'noun phrase' that could syntactically be substituted with a single word such as people...

People that other people fight also fight people that other people fight.

(i.e. - these people don't only fight the people that fight them - they also fight anyone else those other people fight)

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(NOTE: This post is for Buffalox8, but the same 'method' is used to parse it.)

From Yulia at Goodreads:

He [I have no idea who Yulia is referring to] 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."

[...] "New York bison intimidate upstate Joe."

And from Wikipedia:

  • [Those] (Buffalo buffalo) [whom] (Buffalo buffalo) buffalo, buffalo (Buffalo buffalo).
  • [Those] buffalo(es) from Buffalo [that are intimidated by] buffalo(es) from Buffalo intimidate buffalo(es) from Buffalo.
  • Bison from Buffalo, New York, who are intimidated by other bison in their community, also happen to intimidate other bison in their community.
  • THE buffalo FROM Buffalo WHO ARE buffaloED BY buffalo FROM Buffalo, buffalo (verb) OTHER buffalo FROM Buffalo.
  • Buffalo buffalo (main clause subject) [which the] Buffalo buffalo (subordinate clause subject) buffalo (subordinate clause verb) buffalo (main clause verb) Buffalo buffalo (main clause direct object).
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I wouldn't be too concerned with what Yulia at Goodreads says, if he can spend 2 days trying to parse only 8 repetitions. It took me nearly a minute to parse the 11-repetition version - but I used to write programs, so I'm used to symbol manipulation. –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 7:22
    
@FumbleFingers: I fail to see your reasoning that uses the argument of writing programs to seemingly come across as superior, and furthermore, that used to discard another persons argument at whim - the length of time someone spends on a problem it directly related to their aspirations to solve it satisfactorily, and that is subjective; it has nothing to do with the immediate abilities of comprehension. We're not talking about 2+2 here. –  Grant Thomas Jun 23 '11 at 8:29
    
@Mr. Disappointment: I'm sorry you feel that way. I haven't intentionally criticised @muntoo's 'argument'. I simply pointed out that his first quoted excerpt (which is from another language discussion site) is a post from someone who admits he can't understand the 8-repetition version. Still without wishing to seem overly negative, I will point out here that @muntoo spent less time than I did - all he posted was two quoted sections, which is why his answer got in first. –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 11:44
    
...As for 'smart', I assume we're all capable of parsing the sentence in a few minutes at most. Many will be much quicker than me, given either of our answers (plus the Wikipedia link we both give, if necessary). Doubtless some will be slower than me, which is why I modestly attributed my own timing to my background. Programming does involve much parsing of symbol sequences, so anyone slower than me can attribute my speed to my background training, and not feel intellectually belittled. –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 11:51
    
@FumbleFingers: I wasn't referring to @muntoo's argument. And in no way to the time spent in posting this answer. As for someone admitting they don't 'understand', you're putting words in his mouth there, so to speak; I haven't gone to the trouble of reading the full reference, but at most, here, he states that 'it doesn't work' for him - I think there is a deeper level of understanding desired here, rather than just getting an answer and accepting as a given. –  Grant Thomas Jun 23 '11 at 12:06
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