Buffalo is one of my favorite words in the English language, partly because of its three definitions. The first, meaning "a kind of ox", arises from Greek boubalos, meaning "a kind of antelope". This was then passed into Latin, then Portuguese, then adopted in English as another kind of large animal, but not exactly an antelope. The second definition is a little more obscure, but still utilized daily: "to intimidate or bully". This most likely originates from the first, because of the tendency of oxen to panic or posture. The third definition, a city in western New York, is completely different in origin, coming from either a portmanteau of French for "beautiful river" (this makes more sense, since it sits on the beautiful Niagara River) or a Native American chieftain's name. Combined, these three homographs create the longest grammatically correct sentence using only one word: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. This might make no sense, but it's AMAZING and it means "Oxen from Buffalo, NY who are bullied by other oxen from Buffalo then bully more oxen." THIS IS WHY ETYMOLOGY AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS AWESOME.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd