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"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is a grammatically correct sentence in American English, used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic constructs. It has been discussed in literature since 1972 when the sentence was used by William J. Rapaport, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo. It was posted to Linguist List by Rapaport in 1992. It was also featured in Steven Pinker's 1994 book The Language Instinct as an example of a sentence that is "seemingly nonsensical" but grammatical. Pinker names his student, Annie Senghas, as the inventor of the sentence.
The sentence's meaning becomes clearer when it's understood that it uses three meanings of the word buffalo: the city of Buffalo, New York, the somewhat uncommon verb "to buffalo" (meaning "to bully or intimidate"), as well as the animal buffalo. When the punctuation and grammar are expanded, the sentence could read as follows: "Buffalo buffalo that Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo." The meaning becomes even clearer when synonyms are used: "Buffalo bison that other Buffalo bison bully, themselves bully Buffalo bison."
The sentence is unpunctuated and uses three different readings of the word "buffalo". In order of their first use, these are:
Marking each "buffalo" with its use as shown above gives:
The sentence uses a restrictive clause, so there are no commas, nor is there the word "which," as in, "Buffalo buffalo, which Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo." This clause is also a reduced relative clause, so the word that, which could appear between the second and third words of the sentence, is omitted.
Thus, the parsed sentence reads as a claim that bison who are intimidated or bullied by bison are themselves intimidating or bullying bison (at least in the city of Buffalo– implicitly, Buffalo, NY):
The sentence can be clarified by substituting the synonym "bison" for the animal "buffalo", "bully" for the verb "buffalo", and "New York" to refer to the state of the city Buffalo:
Or, alternatively with the city name intact:
Removing the classifier noun "Buffalo" (the city) further clarifies the sentence (note that the initial capital is retained as the common noun "buffalo" now starts the sentence):
Thomas Tymoczko has pointed out that there is nothing special about eight "buffalos"; any sentence consisting solely of the word "buffalo" repeated any number of times is grammatically correct. The shortest is "Buffalo!", which can be taken as an imperative instruction to bully someone ("[You] buffalo!") with the implied subject "you" removed. Tymoczko uses the sentence as an example illustrating rewrite rules in linguistics.
Other English words can be used to make grammatical (but not necessarily meaningful) sentences of this form, containing endless consecutive repetitions. Any word that is both a plural noun and an uninflected transitive verb will work; for example, police, dice, fish, head. Adding a place name like Police, Poland, can allow for a sentence identical in structure to the Buffalo example, though not necessarily with uniform pronunciation: "Police police Police police police police Police police." With head (of cattle), as there is an adjective 'head', there is no capitalisation necessary: "Head head head head head head head head".
Any of these words can be mixed in any arbitrary pattern, such as "Police dice fish head buffalo", although only Police, head, and Buffalo can be parsed as adjectives.
A somewhat similar non-punctuated example is "James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher". This could concern a situation in an English class regarding the usage of the word had, and might be punctuated as, "James, while John had had 'had', had had 'had had'; 'had had' had had a better effect on the teacher."
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