oysters oysters oysters eat eat eat

Basically, there are these oysters who eat other oysters, and these bigger oysters who eat the oyster-eating oysters, but even the tiny oysters at the bottom of the food chain, they still have to eat.

This was presented to me in a linguistics class (Syntax, with Steven Weisler) at Hampshire college, as an example of how an apparently nonsensical string of words can be parsed into a valid sentence. It's in the same vein as "John while Mary had had had had had had had had had was correct", but more like "Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" in that it seems to me to be free of the objectionable "quoting" problem about which TenMinJoe complains.

Disclaimer: this is the only linguistics class I ever took. I don't know linguistics terminology.

Presumably whoever came up with this example saw it on a roadside advertisement or something: "Oysters! Oysters! Oysters! Eat! Eat! Eat! But if you take it as a sentence, "Oysters oysters oysters eat eat eat," with some struggle you can make sense of it. I think I may have seen this in another linguistics textbook with something other than oysters.

OYSTERS EAT Any native speaker should be able to understand "Oysters eat." There are oysters in the ocean, and in order to stay alive they eat stuff. But suppose there are other, bigger oysters, and they actually eat other oysters:

OYSTERS OYSTERS EAT EAT. "The oysters that the (oyster-eating) oysters eat, also eat." These oyster-eating oysters, you see, eat oysters who do themselves eat. The original (non-cannibal) oysters are still the subject of the sentence, and all they are doing is eating. They have just been described as those oysters whom these new cannibal oysters eat. That's a reasonable step to take. For some reason, some people have trouble with the third step, where we learn that these oyster-eating oysters are themselves eaten by still more cannibalistic oysters who feed on oyster-eating-osyters -- "oyster-eating-oyster-eating oysters", [a hyphenation dilemma if there ever was one]:

OYSTERS OYSTERS OYSTERS EAT EAT EAT. "[The simple] oysters [that the oyster-eating] oysters eat, [which in turn oyster-eating-oyster-eating] oysters eat, [these simple oysters also have to] eat. "These oysters, who are eaten by oyster-eating-oysters, who are in turn eaten by oyster-eating-oyster-eating oysters, they eat." Oysters [whom] oysters oysters eat eat, [also] eat. The original non-cannibal oysters are still the subject of the sentence, but their predators are also being described, by describing their own predators.