Today’s grammar tip: Buffalo!

As we slam through a flaming plastic table into this Bills football szn, I thought now would be a good time to melt our brains over the one and only “buffalo” sentence. If you’re not familiar, check out this beaut:

“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

Get it? Got it? Good. What we’re dealing with in this sentence is called lexical ambiguity. The word “buffalo” appears here as three different parts of speech: proper noun, noun, and verb. Some of these then combine into adjective phrases and verb phrases. So let’s crack this baby open like a Blue in Hammer’s Lot!

We all know “Buffalo” – the City of Light, the Queen City, yadda yadda yadda. In this sentence, all three instances of the capitalized “Buffalo” are used to describe bison who come from our fair city. That of course means a smattering of the lowercase “buffalo” refer to the majestic creatures you can peek at in the zoo from Delaware Park. (Not the giraffes, obviously. Gotta catch them on Parkside Ave.) And two instances are verbs: “to buffalo” means to bamboozle, baffle, or bully.

With that, let’s rewrite it: Bison from Buffalo that are bamboozled by other bison from Buffalo then bamboozle other bison from Buffalo.

Or we can make the three groups even more distinct by using some beloved local sports teams: The Buffalo Bisons, who are bullied by the Buffalo Bills, bully the Buffalo Sabres.

Honestly, this makes me think we should be nicer to the buffalo. In any case, Wikipedia has an entry on this sentence, accompanied by some pretty lovely sentence diagrams. And I highly recommend this three-and-a-half-minute TED Ed video explaining it and a couple of other lexically ambiguous sentences. Bonus points for the video animation. Like I always say, “Come for the grammar, stay for the adorable buffalo.”

Go, Bills!