Of Antanaclasis, Buffalo, and Police

One of the delightful-est portions of Mark Forsyth’s delightful book The Etymologicon is his detour into the wonders of antanaclasis. This five-dollar word describes the lexical trick of using a single term with different meanings multiple times in the same sentence. One of the most famous examples of antanaclasis is the remark attributed to Benjamin Franklin, ‘We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.’

In The Etymologicon, Forsyth explores the summit of antanaclasis, the wholly antanaclasic phrase. For instance, he cites the Latin sentence Malo malo malo malo, which apparently translates into ‘I would rather be in an apple tree than be a bad boy in trouble.’ But the true gem of English antanaclasis is a phrase conjured up by William J. Rapaport, who, most fittingly, is now a professor at the University of Buffalo:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

This sentence plays off the fact that there is an American city named Buffalo, there is the bison-like animal known as buffalo, and ‘buffalo’ was once slang for bully or intimidate. To make the sentence more intelligible, think of it this way:

Buffalo buffalo who are buffaloed by Buffalo buffalo go on to buffalo other Buffalo buffalo.

This extraordinary sentence became the subject of rather intense debate at a recent family luncheon and amazingly it was dismissed by most present as preposterous due to the fact that the verb ‘buffalo’ is obscure and no longer in use. This ignited a frantic search for a more digestible antanaclasic phrase using at least an equal number of words. Stumbling upon the fact that there is city in Poland called Police resulted in this Eureka moment:

Police police Police police police police Police police.

Sadly, those present at the family luncheon remained thoroughly unimpressed by antanaclasis. Forsyth himself, a long-standing friend of KMZ REB and the author of The Inky Fool blog, has yet to weigh in on the merit of this newly minted miracle of antanaclasis.

About Jeremy Mercer

Jeremy Mercer is an author and translator who lives in in the Luberon with his fiancée, two children, five cats, two chickens, ten fish, and one pregnant dog. He is currently on the market for a cheap horse. More at http://www.jeremymercer.net
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