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 Buffalo buffalo.
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
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 bison.
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 cats, 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)
The word buffalo is interesting because it can be both a singular and a plural noun as well as a verb whose conjugation is the same for both singular and plural subjects, and, when capitalized, the name of a city.
Let's replace each instance of buffalo with a different word that acts similarly to the way that instance of buffalo is used and then parse the sentence.
Now let's look at the sentence: (and I'll throw in a that to help make it even clearer)
Rochester bison [that] Rochester bison intimidate, intimidate Rochester bison.
And, of course, Rochester bison means bison who are from the city of Rochester.
So we've got some bisonnoun from Rochester who intimidateverb some other bisonnoun from Rochestercity who, in turn, intimidateverb still other bisonnoun from Rochestercity- or maybe it's circular and they're intimidating the first group again.
Taking it back to buffalo again we get some buffalonoun from Buffalocity who buffaloverb some other buffalonoun from Buffalocity who, in turn, buffaloverb still other buffalonoun from Buffalocity.
Buffalocity buffalonoun Buffalocity buffalonoun buffaloverb buffaloverb Buffalocity buffalonoun.
The sentence is not meant to make a lot of sense, it's just supposed to be fun.
(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).