Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ever Had Language Nerds Buffalo You?

I love wordplay and enjoy discovering interesting things about grammar and language (in English, Latin or Arabic), and recently came across some fun things that I thought I'd share. The internet is a great resource for us language hobbyists nerds! (And read on for the famous Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo ... sentence!)

Six-Word Stories Reveal A Lot

I don't know if you've caught the six-word bug that's been showing up more and more in the news. Here are some clever examples. (Warning: you'll have to think twice about the first one):

The trend supposedly goes back to Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, so the story goes, was once prodded to compose a complete story in six words. His answer, personally felt to be his best prose ever, was

For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.
Written to settle a bar bet? A personal challenge directed at other famous authors? No one knows for sure.

The latest and greatest bit of news in this arena was the New Yorker Magazine's coverage of a new book of six-word memoirs in an article written entirely in six-word sentences. One of the many fun responses to the article was on Digg.com. Another fun place to visit is the Six-Word story group on Flickr. Here are some of my husband Dave's photos in that group:

Amazingly crazy, yet grammatically correct sentences

Buffalo Nerd with large glassesFirst, there is the famous "Buffalo" sentence: the word "buffalo" repeated up to twelve times making a grammatically correct sentence. ("Buffalo" can have four different meanings, making this possible.) It's based around a sentence like this one:

People salespeople fool often fool other people themselves.

If we replaced people with "Buffalo," and replaced salespeople with "buffalo," and replaced fool with "buffalo," you begin to the get the idea. Here's a good explanation of the buffalo sentence on Wikipedia. Read the last part first to make better sense of what's going on.

Lastly, there is the question: How many times in a row could the word "had" occur in a gramatically correct sentence? Amazingly, it can be used 11 times in a row. There's another Wikipedia article on this as well. Here's the middle of the actual URL at Wikipedia, good for a laugh on it's own:


Other interesting language articles:


  1. The phrase "language nerds" was all I needed to stop and read your blog. If I were really clever, I would leave a six-word comment. But I'm not, so I'll leave a heartfelt comment instead - engaging and challenging!

    Thanks for brightening my afternoon!

  2. Hi Sarah, Great post on the six word story. The one by Hemingway stopped me cold. The post certainly made me think.

    Thank you, Love Al