Elements of Stale: Having Had Been Buffaloed

by Luke Mazur


A friend emailed me last week. The subject line read: “Have you seen this?” The body of the email was without text-just a pasted in Wikipedia entry for “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

This is what the body of the email looked like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo.

What the fuck, I thought, before actually clicking on. Who was mocking my city like this? Buffalo, NY has a proper Wikipedia entry; I’d read it countless times before. This “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” entry then must be a joke.

But a joke about what? Was the Wiki entry mocking how people who are from Buffalo always tend to find a way to bring up their city in conversation? Or was it a virus meant to trap people who are from Buffalo, NY? Surely the only people to click on such a ridiculous link are those with a severe complex about where they are from. Those who remember with pride, for instance, that Governor Mario Cuomo announced he’d be rooting for the Buffalo Bills in the 1991 Super Bowl, a historic game, where we’d play the New York Giants. Mario’s reasoning was that the Giants played their home games in New Jersey, and as such the Bills were New York State’s home team. Well?

Finally I opened the link. (Not to real talk, but even if it wasn’t safe for work, I don’t have a job anyhow, so no harm in boldness.) And it turns out the eight Buffaloes actually comprise one grammatically correct sentence. It took me a really long time to understand how this was so. Apparently my attention span is so warped that a string of eight words, even if they’re all the same word, is difficult to read.

To read the sentence properly, it helps to know that “buffalo” can function as a verb. When it does, it means “to bully” or “to intimidate.” For example, the bar exam I will be taking later this month still buffaloes me.

Also know that in this particular sentence when “buffalo” is capitalized it functions as an adjective, and not as the city Mario Cuomo considers part of New York State. As an adjective it means “from Buffalo.” Think Buffalo Bills, or even Buffalo wings. (That is, by the way, why they’re called that.)

If you wedge an imaginary “that” (or a “who,” if you really want to anthropomorphize the buffalo) between the second and third words of the sentence, it reads better. Which is to say, Buffalo buffalo [who] Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. However, the sentence remains slightly odd: the city of Buffalo doesn’t have buffalo of its own. In fact, the ones at the Buffalo zoo are actually American Bison. (Note though that in the preceding sentence, “Buffalo” is functioning as an adjective.)

It would be really useful to diagram this sentence. Luckily, we learned how to do that in 10th grade. Unfortunately, like many things about high school, I don’t remember how I did it. Just that I did. For instance, that year we also read Macbeth, but all I seem to remember was that the emo kids were all “out, out brief candle.” This too, even after we had to read it and then listen to it read to us, and then read it again. There was possibly something about a porter who took a whiskey drink and then a vodka drink. And a Banquo. But how to visually conceptualize a sentence? That memory faded quicker than Mario’s presidential prospects.

OK so if you are in fact able to wrap your head around the sentence, you’ll see it’s quite the circle jerk. Buffalo who get bullied by other buffalo bully more buffalo. It’s kind of similar to how one kid bullies another kid and then that kid who just got bullied goes and bullies me. Lord of the Flies meets Western New York, if they were buffalo native to this corner of the world. A pecking order of bullshit, that exists primarily within a made-up universe.

That’s sort of what grammar is. Right?

Luke Mazur is getting back on the bar exam bandwagon, by George!