Mar 102017

by Kim Pederson…….

In a recent blog post, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty asked me (well, everyone) a question I never expected to be asked: “Have you ever struggled to figure out the ‘buffalo buffalo buffalo’ sentence and given up?” This is one query I can answer unequivocally: no. In fact, I was not aware that a “buffalo buffalo buffalo” dilemma existed.

That’s American Bison to you, if you please.*

The sentence GG references is (not simply) eight “buffalos” in a row: “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” Yes, this is a real sentence that is grammatically correct and makes sense. The capitalization is part of what makes this happen. I will pass on Mignon’s explanation, which includes a sentence diagram I won’t repeat here, in summary form because she does it so much better than I ever could.

First, she notes that three different meanings for “buffalo” are involved:

  1. the city in New York
  2. the plural form of the noun describing the animal
  3. the verb that means “bamboozle” or “fool” or “trick”

The sentence comprises subject-verb-object plus modifiers and a restrictive clause. Translated, it reads “New York bison [that are] tricked [by other] New York bison [also themselves] trick [other] New York bison.” Put into the original sentence, it comes out this way: “Buffalo buffalo (bison from New York) Buffalo buffalo buffalo (that New York bison trick) buffalo Buffalo buffalo (trick New York bison).”

If you would like a more prosaic translation, there’s this one from Mental Floss: “Bison from Buffalo, New York who are intimidated by other bison in their community also happen to intimidate other bison in their community.”

There are two lessons here. One comes from the Mental Floss author Chris Higgins, who warns “Beware of Buffalo buffalo, buffalo, for they may buffalo you.” The other is, should you ever travel to Buffalo, be sure to buffalo Buffalo buffalo before Buffalo buffalo buffalo you. Or you could just avoid Buffalo altogether and not have to worry about getting caught in the middle of buffaloed Buffalo buffalo buffaloing buffaloing Buffalo buffalo. From my perspective, that seems the saner course.

* Bison image was released by the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. Public Domain.

Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.

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Kim Pederson
Kim Pederson has been a freelance writer and editor since 1996. Prior to that, he was Senior Editor with Charles River Associates, an international economics consulting firm. Kim earned a B.A. in English (Honors) from the University of Montana and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop. His plays have won awards and been produced in Seattle and other locations; his screenplays have won awards and been optioned, and he has done work-for-hire scripts for film production companies. Kim lives in Key West with his wife Kalo and two Maine coon cats, VeuDeu and Pazuzu.
 March 10, 2017  Posted by at 1:14 am Issue #209, Kim Pederson  Add comments

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