The “Buffalo buffalo…” sentence first appeared in Beyond Language by Dmitri Borgmann in 1967. It uses three different meanings of the word buffalo. They are:
- Buffalo, New York
- the animal (bison) where buffalo is the plural form
- the verb buffalo, which means to confuse or intimidate
The sentence translates to mean, “Bison from Buffalo, which other bison from Buffalo confuse, confuse the bison from Buffalo.”
- The first two words, “Buffalo buffalo,” mean bison from Buffalo.
- The next three words, “Buffalo buffalo buffalo,” mean “which other bison from Buffalo confuse.”
- The last three words, “buffalo Buffalo buffalo,” mean “confuse the bison from Buffalo.”
The same type of confusing though grammatically correct homophonous sentences can be made with a variety of words including:
Rose rose to put roes rows on her rows of roses.
Will Will’s will will Will’s will?
This type of lingual ambiguity is the subject of Fun Facts About English #84!
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