Buffalo: the most versatile word in the English language
Why? Because this is a grammatically correct sentence:
“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”
Yep. You read that right. I was confused by this too, just two days ago. You see, this is an Ultimate frisbee chant.
Fun to say? Check.
An inside joke that makes no sense to anyone who isn't in on it?
If you're like me, you've re-read this chant three times over . I'm like to understand what I'm told.
And I am stubborn.
So now I'm writing a blog post about it.
If you'd like to puzzle this out on your own, go for it. Thirty minutes well spent. See if we’re on the same page when you’re satisfied with your attempt.
Let’s Break it down
In order to understand why this is a complete sentence, we have to understand what a complete sentence is made up of.
The action being performed.
The recipient of the action.
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
[The quick brown fox](subject) [jumps over](predicate) [the lazy dog](object).
I ate a sandwich.
[I](subject) [ate](predicate) [a sandwich](object).
Luckily for us, “Buffalo” can mean
A noun (bison)
A proper noun (Buffalo, NY)
- A verb (to intimidate, bully, or harass) – betcha didn't know that one. I didn't.
Build it up
If we're going by sentence form, we can start simple:
[Buffalo](subject) [buffalo](predicate) [buffalo](object)
In other words, bison bully bison.
Great. We're almost halfway there.
Which parts can we extend using our limited (singular) vocabulary,
and which can we not?
Well, we can extend a subject by describing it.
“A fox” can become “A brown fox” can become “A quick brown fox.”
Our fox could even hail from the great city of Buffalo, NY, making it a
“A quick brown *Buffalo* fox.”
By this logic, our buffalo could become “Buffalo buffalo.”
We can also extend a verb, using adverbs, but not with “buffalo.”
A shame, but we will live.
Using our new buffalo from Buffalo, we can extend both our subject and object.
[Buffalo buffalo] [buffalo] [Buffalo buffalo] .
At an impasse
How do we extend this further? Just as we described our buffalo further, let's try to describe our “Buffalo buffalo” further.
Let's take this sentence for example:
Pat paints pictures.
What if I want to talk specifically about the canvas in this sentence?
I would not just say “canvas,” but rather I would say
Pictures that Pat paints.
We can describe objects by the events they have experienced. We can even get rid of “that” with it still making sense.
Pictures Pat paints
Using this formula, what would a buffalo that is intimidated by other buffalo be called?
They would be “buffalo (that) buffalo buffalo!”
And buffalo from Buffalo that are targeted by buffalo from Buffalo?
They would be “[Buffalo buffalo] [Buffalo buffalo] buffalo!”
That's five “buffalo” in a single subject of a sentence!
Now that we have a new subject, let's insert it into our old phrase.
[(Buffalo buffalo) (Buffalo buffalo) buffalo] buffalo [Buffalo buffalo].
And we're done. That's eight buffalo in a single, grammatically correct sentence.
And I am off to bed, having fulfilled my deadline. Enjoy your newfound grammatical toy.