“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”
According to William Rappaport, a linguistics professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo (naturally), that — the word “Buffalo,” eight times in a row — is a legitimate, grammatically valid sentence.
Really. His long, hard to mentally wrestle with explanation is in the above link. but to boil it down quickly:
“Buffalo,” with a capital “B,” refers to the area of Buffalo, New York.
“buffalo,” with a lower-case “b,” can be a noun meaning “bison” or a verb meaning “intimidate”
Adding a few words to clarify, you get:
“Bison from Buffalo, NY, which other bison from Buffalo, NY intimidate, also intimidate (even other) bison from Buffalo, NY.”
Clunky? Sure. But it’s otherwise perfectly acceptable English. Try it with other animals and action: “Field mice domestic cats chase enjoy Swiss cheese.” Works fine.
Bonus fact: “The horse raced past the barn fell” is also a perfectly sound sentence, for different reasons. It’s an example of a garden path sentence, a sentence where the most likely interpretation leads to an odd result — your initial take is that the word “and” needs to be before the word “fell.” But read it as “The horse (that was) raced past the barn fell” and it makes sense.
From the Archives: And, the 27th Letter of the Alphabet: The ampersand — that is, “&” — was once part of the alphabet, which, as you’ll see, is how it got its name.
Related: “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynne Truss. Four stars on roughly 600 reviews.
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