11 June 2011

Effing Buffalo

A friend of mine once postulated that the eff word was the most versatile in the English language. As someone who has taught English in another country, he can make this claim more genuinely than, say, a college student attempting to excuse swear words in an essay.

My friend's reasoning was that eff can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. No other word can claim to be the four most common types of words we use to build our sentences.

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Basically, if it exists, it's a noun: 'What do you effers think you're doing?'

A verb is action. It moves, helps or allows nouns to exist: 'Eff this class, i don't need it.'

Adjectives are descriptive words. They give color to nouns: 'Badges? We don't need no eff'ing badges.'

Adverbs do the same as adjectives, but with verbs: 'Can we stop? I'm tired of eff'ing running.'

You could even string them together: 'Eff'ing eff off eff'ing eff'er!' Sure, you sound like Jay from Jay and Silent Bob but it's doable, that's the point.

Recently, i came across another word that's even more versatile than eff. Well, it's not true that i recently learned of the word. I've known it for years, but it was only the past month that i became aware of how it can be used in more ways than the usual.

The word? Buffalo.

It's obviously a noun. That large beast we sing about in 'Home on the Range' ('Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam...') as well as various cities across the United States, like Buffalo, New York.

Speaking of Buffalo, NY, they are the home of the Buffalo Bills, which illustrates the use of buffalo as an adjective. It's not as pronounced in its 'adjectivity' as 'snowy' or 'green,' but it's an adjective none the less.

It doesn't end here. Buffalo is also a verb. To buffalo someone can mean either to confuse them or to intimidate them. I can almost imagine how both definitions came from the great beast of the plains.

Since 'buffalo' is a noun, a verb and an adjective, we can correctly write 'Buffalo buffalo buffalo.' A synonymous sentence would read 'North American bison intimidate other North American bison.' To obfuscate things further, let's try out 'Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.' This could read ''North American bison from the city of Buffalo, New York intimidate other North American bison, also from the city of Buffalo, New York.'

If you think that's the extent to which this absurdity can go, i have a quote from The Princess Bride to answer. You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?

Linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky has stated that you can string together any number of 'buffalos' together without any punctuation or any other words and it will also be a legitimate sentence. Since Dr. Chomsky is considered to be one of the fathers of modern linguistics, i think we can take his word for it.

So despite how versatile the eff word can be, it appears buffalo reigns supreme. Which is good. Gives us all one more reason not to swear when we're trying to show off our linguistic skills.


  1. Brilliant. Worth the wait in recent blogs.

  2. shout out to Noam Chomsky!!! good work Benson.