"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

This sentence is pathetic because it is contrived by using the same word as all required parts of speech at once: noun, adjective, verb, proper noun, etc. Steven Pinker uses this sentence to prove a point in his excellent book, The Language Instinct.

Time flies like an arrow.

While not pathetic in and of itself, this seemingly wise sentence demonstrates that human speech perception relies heavily on context. This sentence provided a frightening wake-up call for linguistics researchers when a computer program they had written found five gramatically plausible intepretations. In case you can't figure out what they all are (the fourth and fifth stretch the words pretty far), they are as follows:

  1. Time proceeds as quickly as an arrow proceeds.
  2. Measure the speed of flies in the same way that you measure the speed of an arrow.
  3. Measure the speed of flies in the same way that an arrow measures the speed of flies.
  4. Measure the speed of flies that resemble an arrow.
  5. Flies of a particular kind, time flies, are fond of an arrow.
I.e., time flies like an arrow, and fruit flies like a banana. You'll never look at proverbs the same way again. All this is shamelessly ripped off of Steven Pinker, who is very good reading if you're interested in how language works. I would recommend The Language Instinct over Words and Rules, although the latter has an excellent section concerning the horrors of the German language.

I was also going to cite

This sentence no verb.


This sentence has contains two verbs.

but someone else seems to have beaten me to it.

In keeping with the nature of this node and its fascinating exposé of the pitfalls of implicit meaning, I should relate a short, potentially unamusing anecdote. Some friends and I were sitting around stoned one day, doing something stupid. As I started expressing disdain for said activity, one of the group uttered a few pathetic sentences, including "Dude, you're harshing all over my mellow."

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