JS Tip 469: Fun with Buffalo
From the April Fools’ Workshops: Fun with Buffalo
- There are no April Fools’ workshops, but Sunday is April Fools’ Day, and we thought we’d have some fun.
This tip has no serious content. Well . . . maybe a little about the nature of the language.
Consider these words. This sentence.
- Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
It’s a sentence. A complete sentence. A fun sentence. A fellow named Dmitri Borgmann devised the sentence in a 1967 book called Beyond Language: Adventures in Word and Thought.
But what does it mean?
It uses homonyms—words that are spelled alike but have different meanings—to present an idea.
In the sentence, “Buffalo” (or “buffalo”) can mean three things:
- The city in New York state
- The American bison—the big, shaggy animal with horns
- To “bully,” or “to intimidate”
Take it one piece at a time:
“Buffalo buffalo”—the animals that live in the New York city (the buffalo that live in Buffalo)—that another herd of animals that live in the same New York city bully or intimidate, “Buffalo buffalo buffalo”—take out their anger by bullying a third herd of animals that live in that same New York city, “buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”
Let's try it again:
Three herds of buffalo live in Buffalo, New York. One herd of buffalo bullies another, and the bullied group then bullies a third herd. (“Third herd.” Even that’s funny.)
As we said, absolutely nothing serious here. But fun. Share this with your kids. The language is fascinating.
Next week, we’ll try to be more serious. We promise.