What’s the best sentence ever formed?

That was the topic of a recent Quora forum (by the way may I officially announce that Quora seems to have succeeded?  Would it be so bad to spend less time with your Google Reader and more time browsing Quora?), and here was the top pick:

“I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalizes intercommunications’ incomprehensibleness.”

(Dmitri Borgmann, Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities. Scribner, 1965)

This is a ‘rhopalic’ sentence: A sentence or a line of poetry in which each word contains one letter or one syllable more than the previous word.

File under “Very good sentences’!  If I understand the Quora system correctly, that was from Ramnath Ragunathan.

Nishit Jain has the runner-up:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

No, really. There’s a whole Wikipedia page on it – Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

The sentence’s intended meaning becomes clearer when it’s understood that it uses the city of Buffalo, New York and the somewhat-uncommon verb “to buffalo” (meaning “to bully or intimidate”), and when the punctuation and grammar is expanded so that the sentence reads as follows: “Buffalo buffalo that Buffalo buffalo buffalo, buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” The meaning becomes even clearer when synonyms are used: “Buffalo-origin bison that other Buffalo bison intimidate, themselves bully Buffalo bison.”

The entire thread is worth reading, and in your spare time you can ponder why most of the best answers come from individuals with names from the subcontinent.  Here is the contribution of Veekas Shrivastava, listed as an elementary school chess player (retired):

A little grammar puzzle:

“that that is is that that is not is not that is it is it not”

Correctly punctuated: “That that is, is. That that is not, is not. That is it, is it not?”

Here is from Sugavanesh Balasubramanian:

“However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.”

So there.

Comments

Those monstrous "sentences" are certainly clever and whimsical, but are they really great?

Agreed. These are cleverly engineered phrases, nifty mind puzzles but not great in terms of what effect they have on others. To be fair, the question was vague.

Also on the ethnicity question, would be intereting to know who is doing the upvoting. Majority views tend to be well represented in democracies.

Comments for this post are closed

Great is something else, like the opening sentence of Samuel Beckett's "Murphy":
'The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.'

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

What's with the ethnically Indian domination of this English language oddity corner?

A colonial subjugation hangover?

Comments for this post are closed

For an unusual definition of "best." These examples are irritating and basically incomprehensible. For some immeasurably better sentence, refer to the author discussed one post below.

Comments for this post are closed

An old favorite:

John where James had had had had had had had had had had had the teacher's approval.

Punctuated:

John, where James had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had the teacher's approval.

Comments for this post are closed

My two favorite:

If a "the" had a "the" it would be the "the" the "the" had. And if that the had a the, it would be the the the the the the had had. And if that the had a the, it would be the the the the the the the the had had had ...

Also, should there be a comma between fish and and, and and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and and, and and and chips in the sentence, "Should there be a comma between fish and and, and and and and, and and and chips in a fish and chips sign"?

Comments for this post are closed

The "valorous visitation" sentence is from a longer passage in the same vein from Alan Moore's "V for Vendetta."

Comments for this post are closed

we giggled over these in high school, hardly the best sentences ever formed. The best sentence should convey information in the clearest possible way and in the fewest amount of words.

That being said, the shortest story ever told (by Ernest Hemingway): "For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn."

Sadly, this attribution appears apocryphal.

It *should* be true though.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

"may I officially announce that Quora seems to have succeeded"

It's snopes for people with 150k student debt.

"It’s snopes for people with 150k student debt," is a pretty good sentence itself.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

While slightly off-topic and not about the sentences, I have to say that I think that Quora is ripe to be destroyed.

When Quora started to block answers, then it became just like expertsexchange back in the day (which also blocked answers), and Stackoverflow quickly destroyed it. I'm ready for a Stackoverflow to take out Quora.

Yep. I hate it that they wont let you browse without signing up.

A very burdensome signup process, too.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Expert sex change?

Yes, it won't hurt a bit.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Add me to the list of folks who won't sign up at quora and thus can't read anything there.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

"And this, too, shall pass away."

Comments for this post are closed

I remember this one from an artificial intelligence class I took in college:

"Time flies like an arrow."

It's supposed to represent the difficulty of natural language processing since there are so many different ways it can be understood. Wiki page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_flies_like_an_arrow;_fruit_flies_like_a_banana#Analysis_of_the_basic_ambiguities

Comments for this post are closed

As a fan or word play and grammar tricks I find the insinuation that these come from India a bit misleading. They, surely, have been posted first on Quora by Indian-named people, but in all cases the phrases are much older and pretty famous.

Could it be that the timing meant that more people from India read it and commented before it became "visible" in the U.S.? Could it be that a group of Indian people with similar tastes in grammar shared the link and they all contributed?

Since the phrases are most definitively not indian I don't think we can make any deductions other than that a group of indian people with an interest in interesting wordplay happened upon that quora thread and commented on it. Since quora will tell you what your friends have answered on and Indian names are so obviously different (whereas people from at least five countries would have all english-sounding names) we can be led to what I believe to be a false assumption.

I don't think the insinuation's that Indians came up with these. It is that they are, perhaps, more amused by it.

Or they use Quora more. Or there are just more of them. Or they remember this kind of thing better. Or feel the need to signal about language skills/erudition more.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Showstopping analysis. You must be a hit at all the parties.

Comments for this post are closed

You're missing the point. there weren't any Muslims.

Comments for this post are closed

Eduo Comment Fail! Lol!! I am erudite!

Comments for this post are closed

Indians are very good at second hand circulation / popularization of ideas/trends originating elsewhere.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Ike an' Can can-can. Can Cann can-can? (yes)

Can't.

Can Ike, with a canned opening, say the Caro-Kann? Or can Ike play a canned opening say the Caro-Kann? In the first instance we ask to vanquish (can) Ike playing a known (canned) chess opening, the Caro-Kann, while in the second sentence we question whether Ike can play such an opening.

Which witch is which? (from the Wizard of Oz)

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Oh, I did not do it right. Here it is.
Ike 'an Cann can can-can. Can Kann can-can? Kann can can-can.

Karl Icahn ("I-can"), the American greenmailer, but not tinned goods greengrocer, is *not* amused.

Canned Trivia: Citigroup has its roots in American Can, which as late as the early 1980s was canning cans consumed from Cambridge to Cannes, then became Primerica and eventually Citigroup, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Can_Company. If you don't get it, you have a tin ear for puns.

Comments for this post are closed

I note that in terms of the longest sequence of identical sounding words, Eric's one about fish and chips has 32 "and"s making it the top. Mine on "can"s has 13 for #2, although they are spelled differently, which may disqualify.

And while talking about fish, I note that it can be spelled "ghoti," with "gh" as in laugh, "o" as in women, and "ti" as in nation.

Comments for this post are closed

How many cans can a cannery can if a cannery can can cans?

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

From my archives,originally found on a 1995 listserv by Hal Davis, then of the National Law Journal, now of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"Wouldn't the sentence ‘I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign’ have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?"

Comments for this post are closed

(sorry people, I still don’t seem to care).

I kid, I kid.

Comments for this post are closed

"And me now."

Comments for this post are closed

It is much easier to say this sentence than it is to write it.

"There are three "to's" in the English language."

Comments for this post are closed

Nobody has mentioned the
Sole Seoul sole sole and soul shop.....

That is, the only shop in the Korean capital that sells fish, mends shoes, and has a record department!

Comments for this post are closed

I looked up that first sentence two days ago. I was wondering if MR was stalking me.

I first heard it on Car Talk as one of their puzzlers. I could figure it out, and remembered how it started, but couldn't finish it.

Comments for this post are closed

My favourite sentence is "The frost performs it's secret ministry unhelp by any hand".

There is music in words as we, the Welsh, understand.

Comments for this post are closed

Many years ago I invented this torture for students of English:

He fought coughing through the borough's rough boughs.

Comments for this post are closed

Damn, it was so long ago I forgot the though.

Though coughing, he fought through the borough's rough boughs.

Use Hitchmough instead of he.

Got to figure out how to get "drought" in there. I think that's the last of the common English pronunciations of "ough."

Just tack it on the end as "in a drought."

How about "Though coughing, Hitchmough fought through a drought in the borough's rough boughs."

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Slough rhymes with "new", or does Hitchmough too?

Jasper Fforde does this kind of wordplay a lot in his "Thursday Next" books. There's one passage that plays with "that that" and "had had" and manages to end up with some ridiculous number of them in a row.

I'm sure Hitchmough has numerous pronunciations. Obviously there is an original pronunciation and then the Ellis Island version.

I think it rhymes either with "ma" , "muh" or "mog."

Slough is a good one, but I thought it rhymed with rough.

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

I feel like it's hard to announce that Quora has succeeded when its growth path looks like this: http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=quora&cmpt=q

Comments for this post are closed

I like "Why did you bring that book that I didn't want to be read to out of up for?"

Comments for this post are closed

No Yalies? Monty Burns would be disappoint.

Bulldogs bulldogs bulldogs fight fight fight!

Comments for this post are closed

No one has ever been able to create a coherent sentence* that uses all 26 letters of the alphabet once, and only once. The closest I've ever seen used 25 letters, all except "t," and sort of stretches the definition of "coherent" to the limit: Fjord bank cym glyphs vex quiz.

* = technically speaking A, B, C ... X, Y, Z would be a sentence, the answer to "What are the letters of the alphabet?"

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!

Uses all 26 letters

But not only once...

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

Whoops, that was "cwm glyphs"

Comments for this post are closed

Jesus weeps.

Comments for this post are closed

Here is one my daughter brought home from school:

"Jamie while John had had had had had had had had had had had my approval."

Comments for this post are closed

One reason might be that, in India, wordplay and puns are seen as a sophisticated, intellectual form of humor and a sign of strong intelligence.

In the West, puns are often looked down upon and seen as the lowest form of humor.

Surely you jest.

Comments for this post are closed

One reason why PG Wodehouse is still so very popular in India unlike in the English speaking world where he has gone out of fashion

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed

George Orwell would regard that sentence on family doctors as a terrible one going by his views in the essay Politics and the English Language

The over-use of Latin words in English hurts the language something that Orwell often bemoaned.
Latin-derived words like transcendence, decipher etc. Especially when simpler Saxon alternatives exist.

Good English sentences should read something like this -
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

Simple, vivid.

Comments for this post are closed

"... in your spare time you can ponder why most of the best answers come from individuals with names from the subcontinent."

Because this: http://thenextweb.com/in/2013/02/26/india-passes-the-us-to-become-quoras-top-source-of-traffic/

Comments for this post are closed

Why Quora is so popular in India, which is perhaps the question you were really asking, is probably more worth pondering.

Which is a pretty terrible sentence, but hey, it fits the theme.

Comments for this post are closed

I got loads of 'em:

Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thy own esteem;
Letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would,"
Like the poor cat i' the adage.

Comments for this post are closed

The responses all seem to be leaning toward "greatest sentence" from the perspective of the syntax itself; like sounds of the words.

If you interpret it in another way, meaning merely the symbolism or meaning of the sentence, and how efficiently it fits large ideas into short language, then I have to second the commenter who suggested "This too, shall pass."

It is absolutely brilliant in its simplicity in expressing a seemingly endless list of very complex situations and feelings. What other sentence could bring you comfort when you are upset, temper your joy when you are happy, calm you down when you are angry, or make you doubt anything which is certain? And all just in four short words. I love it.

Comments for this post are closed

A coworker of mine said to another, "I am IM-ing", so I asked her, "What if you were Muslim, and trying to inform your mother about your attempts to send an instant message to the leader of your mosque in Florida: you'd say, 'Mom, I am IM-ing my imam in Miami'. It's not up the the previous examples, but worth it for all the dazed looks I got. Come to think of it, I could've substituted "Burma" for "Florida" and "Myanmar" for "Miami".

Comments for this post are closed

"The authority, sir, of all these great men, whose works, as well as the whole of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the entire series of the Monthly Review, the complete set of the Variorum Classics, and the Memoirs of the Academy of Inscriptions, I have read through from beginning to end, deposes, with irrefragable refutation, against your ratiocinative speculations, wherein you seem desirous, by the futile process of analytical dialectics, to subvert the pyramidal structure of synthetically deduced opinions, which have withstood the secular revolutions of physiological disquisition, and which I maintain to be transcendentally self-evident, categorically certain, and syllogistically demonstrable"

Comments for this post are closed

Comments for this post are closed