Buffalo buffalo buffalo

September 12, 2014

By Lila Wallrich

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

That’s not just a gibberish string of words. It’s a 100% grammatically correct sentence—subject, verb and object.

Don’t believe me? Well then allow me to retort.

Imagine a town of bullies. (It’s easy if you try.) In that town, everyone either bullies, gets bullied, or both. That sad last group would be:

Bullies that bullies bully.

Or, if we were to remove the optional “that,”

Bullies bullies bully.

Given the vicious cycle of abuse in this hypothetical town, we know exactly what these bullied bullies do in their spare time. They just turn around and bully other (presumably smaller) bullies. In other words:

Bullies bullies bully (subject) bully (verb) bullies (object).

Now, consider how we’d describe the situation if those bullies weren’t actually human, but were instead big, furry and bovine? Bearing in mind that the plural of “buffalo” is “buffalo,” we would say:

Buffalo buffalo bully (subject) bully (verb) buffalo (object).

Now, let’s throw one more wrench into this sentence. What if this town weren’t hypothetical at all? What if it were, say, Buffalo, New York?

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo bully (subject) bully (verb) Buffalo buffalo (object).

And now, the pièce de résistance! I put it to you, dear reader, that the word “bully” is overused. Let’s consider a synonym with a bit more verve and flavor. To “buffalo” someone is to bully or intimidate them. Substituting, we get:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo (subject) buffalo (verb) Buffalo buffalo (object).

<drops the mic>

And there you have it. A big, hairy, beautiful, grammatically correct sentence. Say aloud with me.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Oh, and one more thing. The clever linguist who came up with this neat little example back in 1972 was William J. Rapaport, an associate professor at… wait for it… the University at Buffalo.

buffalo and grammar

Buffalo buffalo buffalo

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