Buffalo fuckers buffalo fuckers buffalo fuckers buffalo

The title of this post is a coherent, grammatical sentence.

If you like having fun with English, you will sooner or later meet several versions of a long sentence made entirely of the word buffalo that show four facts of English:

  1. We can often convert words from one class to another – noun to verb or vice versa, for example – without changing them, as in converting the noun buffalo to the verb buffalo (linguists call this zero derivation);
  2. We can use nouns as modifiers in place of adjectives without changing them, as in using the place name Buffalo to mean ‘from Buffalo’;
  3. Some nouns don’t change form in the plural, either (buffalo being one);
  4. We can omit relativizers such as that, as in “buffalo buffalo buffalo” in place of “buffalo that buffalo buffalo.”

So OK fine. Buffalo. Who gives a fuck about buffalo? Hairy humpbacked ungulates. Look, I grew up near a bunch of bison that people called buffalo, and they were nothing all that special. Truculent humpbacked bearded beasts. Didn’t taste as good as beef either. Tough fuckers.

What words are really famously versatile in English? Swearwords. Of course. The sentence “Fuck off, you fucking fuck” gives a hint of the matter. It also shows, on the other hand, two ripostes to the above:

  1. Not all words, even swearwords, are converted to other word classes unaltered;
  2. Most words have different forms for singular and plural, so that a given noun-verb conjugation is almost certain to have an s on one word or the others (noun verbs; nouns verb).

Words also show the distinction between mass objects and countables. For instance, you can have shit, which is a mass object, and you can have a shit, which is a countable thing (you can have two shits, and you can give two shits, but that’s different from giving shit – or having shit, or having a shit).

So let’s see what kinds of things we can do with swearwords. If you follow @stronglang, you will have seen a few tweeted of late. Here they are, with explications.

Shitty shits shitting shits shit shit shitty shits shit.

There are shitty shits, right? And these shitty shits shit. What do they shit? Shits. And when they shit those shits, what do they shit? Well, obviously, they shit shit. What kind of shit do they shit? They shit shit that shitty shits shit. Tautologically. So, tagging words for verb, noun, and adjective, and filling in missing relatives:

Shitty[a] shits[n] [that are] shitting[v] shits[n] shit[v] shit[n] [that] shitty[a] shits[n] shit[v].

Are well warmed up now? Does this already seem a bit like Dr. Seuss, or anyway Dr. Sewers? Next!

Shitty shits shitty shits shit shit shits shitty shit shitting shits shit shitting shit.

So it turns out that shitty shits can be shit by other shitty shits (should we say they are shat? shitten?). And what do these shitty shits that are shit by other shitty shits do? They shit shits. What kind of shits do they shit? They shit the kind that are shit by shitty shits who are shitting shit, specifically when they are shitting shit. So, putting curly brackets around subject and object of the main clause:

{Shitty[a] shits[n] [that] shitty[a] shits[n] shit[v]} shit[v] {shits[n] [that] shitty[a] (shit[-]shitting)[a] shits[n] shit[v] [when they are] shitting[v] shit[n]}.

OK fine. Fuck all that shit. Let’s look at the fucking fuckers and their fucks.

Fucker fucking fuckers fucking fucker fucking fuckers fuck fucker fucking fuckers fucking fucker fucking fuckers.

This is a bit of a stunt because it’s leaving out the hyphens that editors (and careful writers) like to stick in to make compound modifiers obvious. Why leave them out? Because I’m fucking with you, duh. But anyway, a fucker fucking fucker is a fucker who is fucking a fucker, or who in general fucks fuckers. If we change fucker fucking fuckers to a simpler noun phrase, let’s say twats, this is much simpler: Twats fucking twats fuck twats fucking twats. Meaning that {twats [who are] fucking twats} fuck {twats [who are] fucking twats}. So:

{(Fucker[n][-]fucking[a])[a] fuckers[n] [who are] fucking[v] (fucker[n][-]fucking[a])[a] fuckers[n]} fuck[v] {(fucker[n][-]fucking[a])[a] fuckers[n] [who are] fucking[v] (fucker[n][-]fucking[a])[a] fuckers[n]}.

Does this tickle your brain a bit? All that conversion and parsing and filling in can really be a round of mental chin-ups to make you feel smart.

Or it could buffalo you.

Fucking buffalo. Fuck those buffalo. Here:

Fucking buffalo fucking buffalo fuck fucking buffalo fuck fucking buffalo fucking buffalo fucking fucking buffalo fuck.

Kinda really looks like a rant by one pissed-off buffalo herder, dunnit? But this, too, is a coherent sentence. It just introduces one more little turn: we can also leave out the while.

The repeated noun phrase in this sentence is fucking buffalo, which means either ‘buffalo that fuck’ or ‘goddamn buffalo’. Lets abbreviate that as FB for a moment:

{FB[n] [that] FB[n] fuck[v] [while they are] fucking[v] buffalo[n]} fuck[v] {FB[n] [that] (FB[n] [that are] fucking[v] FB[n])[n] fuck[v]}.

Got all that? It’s all good. Because English. And sweariness.

Oh: The parsing of the title of this article is trivial and is left as an exercise to the reader.

5 thoughts on “Buffalo fuckers buffalo fuckers buffalo fuckers buffalo

  1. Iva Cheung January 17, 2015 / 12:43 am

    This post reminds me of Tim Minchin’s “Pope Song.”


  2. Alina Cincan January 20, 2015 / 9:06 pm

    My head’s spinning 🙂 But great examples of how amazing language can be.


  3. יובל פינטר January 22, 2015 / 7:41 pm

    [Spoiler: solution to exercise]
    Buffalo-fuckers {harass} fuckers [that] buffalo-fuckers {harass}.
    No city meaning!


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