THE WEB PAGE OF
Sentences up with which we find it amusing to put.
Sources are (usually) not quoted. Some are worth ferreting out. The title of this page is a case in point.
The target language is (standard
(see below). In case of doubt check with your (friendly) local (neighborhood-) American.
Errors in any language (including my own) are par for the course and are carefully hidden.
Other phrases are admittedly completely incomprehensible to even native speakers unless they know the 'joke'. An example is the Dutch 'graven' sentence. As an amusing variation, the Italian “archbishopric” phrase is essentially unpronounceable even to native speakers who read it slowly off the screen.
(Complaint of a fish and chips store owner, who has the store's sign painted.)
I don't like it: you didn't leave enough space between fish and and and and and chips.
(Complaint of a child whose mother reads to her every night.)
What did you bring this book that I don't want to be read
to out of up for against my will.
(A true sentence that cannot be truly written:)
Two has 3 meanings in the English language.
(A true sentence that cannot be truly said:)
There is clearly no cause for confusion between to, too, and two.
(And therefore, of course, we have a true sentence that cannot be truly said or written:)
Two has 3 meanings in the English language, and there is clearly no cause for confusion between to, too, and two.
Ob man ueber Unterammergau oder aber ueber Oberammergau faehrt, ist ja ganz egal.
Als hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach.
(If you understood the Fliegen sentence and still feel lucky try the following three sentences.)
Wenn Grillen Grillen Grillen grillen, grillen Grillen Grillen Grillen.
Als in Graven graven gravengraven graven, graven graven Gravener gravengraven.
Toen zagen zagen zagen zagen zagen, zagen zagen zagen zagen zagen.
(Here is one that is nearly impossible to say:)
Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz.
(Husband, wife, three children. Children want to camp out in the tent.)
Mother: Let us forget the tent! Father: Yes, let us four get the tent!
(On a different tack, here are two sentences about knowing and knowledge. They
are not all supposed to be funny; they were written by
So there is no point in anyone trying to learn from me
what I know
I do not know -- unless, perhaps, he wants to know how not to know
what, as he ought to know, no one can know.
If they say, 'What if you are mistaken?' -- well, if I am mistaken,
I am. For, if one does not exist, he can by no means be mistaken.
Therefore, I am, if I am mistaken that I am, since it is certain that
I am, if I am mistaken. And because, if I could be mistaken, I would
have to be the one who is mistaken, therefore, I am most certainly
not mistaken in knowing that I am. Nor, as a consequence, am I
mistaken in knowing that I know. For, just as I know that I am, I
also know that I know.
(Here are three palindromes.)
Was it a bar or a bat I saw.
Dábale arroz a la zorra el abad.
Doc, note, I dissent. A fast
never prevents a fatness.
I diet on cod.
(How about some grafiti? Here is what someone wrote on
a holder of paper toilet seat covers:)
Republican Life Vests.
English is very rich in words for groupings (nouns of assembly). Here are a number of them.
I leave out the exclusively generic ones such 'set' or 'group'. The generic ones include wonderful words like 'scad' (and its plural). This may once have had a specific connotation, but its origin is unknown and it (now) only has its generic meaning. I also leave out all words that have their origin in number or weight ('dozens', 'tons'). In fact almost all of the following
words have in common that they are used primarily but not only in a very specific context. Do you
know each of the following contexts? For example: A 'round of drinks', a 'cluster of stars',
a 'colony of termites', an 'episode of sparrows', an 'unkindness of ravens', a ' of products',
a 'shock of hair', a 'den of cub scouts', a 'span of time', a 'remuda of horses',
a 'setting of wares', a 'mob of kangaroos' (from Australia), a 'bevy of larks' (or '... quail') etc.
Words like 'brace' and 'cord' are not included since they imply a fixed quantity-- 2 in the first case and 4x4x8 foot in the second. I included 'batch', since it has one specific non-generic usage, namely 'a batch of cows'. Similarly for 'book': 'a book of matches'. Some have more than one preferred
specific usages: 'a skein of thread', 'a skein of geese'. Or try this: a 'flight of birds' and a
'flight of locks'. Note that a 'school of fish' is a 'shoal of fish' on the move. A 'shoal' is therefore a 'school' without the purpose.
A 'peal of bells' means a set of bells as found in a church tower (related to 'appeal < appel (fr.)').
The sound of laughter (a peal of laughter) is derived from this.)
A 'lashing' comes from something
you bind together (to lash). However, in the old days a
meant a whipping, still extant in a 'tongue-lashing'.
A 'welter' is from old Indo-European stock and has to do with generally round things
(apparently 'valley' and 'revolve' are words related to it).
In the same way a 'load' consists
of generally heavy things. 'Gobs' is of Celtic origin and
originally meant a mouthful.
Another word of Celtic origin and one of unknown origin have not made the cut as being too
generic: 'slew' (or 'slue', but not,apparently, 'slough') and 'oodles'.
'Onslaught' is a borderline case. It is of Dutch origin ('aanslag' = 'attack') and means an overwhelming outpouring. In spite of appearances this is not generic (an 'onslaught of daisies'?).
In one of his novels Gore Vidal uses the beautiful phrasing 'a raft of royalty' for some of the guests at a very uppity party.
Those of you keen on really cool words: look up 'clowder of cats'.
James Lipton wrote a book called 'An Exaltation of Larks' which contains many more example of these words than we can list here.
Covey, coven, episode, dollop, pinch, stack, gaggle,
bevy, herd, flock, grove, flight, wing, span,
tribe, clan, synod, fleet, flotilla, squadron, squad, troop, swarm, army, flurry, barrage, deck, bolt, cluster,
galaxy, pack, pride, pod, school, bed, round, colony, pile, crock, murder, raft, wad, heap,
larder, clutch, convoy, ream, retinue, batch, confederacy, bullpen, hutch, mob, droves,
posse, gang, band, hood, shock, parliament, unkindness, den, setting, remuda, brood,
copse, cabal, batch, book, skein, quiver, pencil, passel, shoal, peal, spate, smattering, clowder,
detachment , battery, batallion, regiment, division, crew, smattering, lashing, welter, load, gobs, onslaught, clowder, exaltation, detail, bouquet, posy.
(Polite French for when you bump someone in the Parisian metro.)
A: 'Faux pas!'
B: 'Pas de deux.'
(French Vocabulary no-one Believes. Try to say it with a French accent.)
(Six infinitives in succession)
Ik zou jou wel
eens willen hebben
staan kijken tot
het conflict een einde nam.
(If you think Italian is operatic and easy, try this tongue twister = 'sciolilingua'.)
l'Arcivescovo di Constantinopoli si volesse
disarcivescovisconstantinopolizzereste voi per
non fare disarcivescovisconstantinopolizzare lui?
(Here are two others that are popular, especially with children.)
Trentatre Trentini entrarono a Trento tutti e trentatre trotterellando.
Sopra la panca la capra campa. Sotto la panca la capra crepa.
(Sound differences are an unending source of marvel. Subtle sound differences give rise to interesting minimal pairs or words which differ in only one phonological element. These are not always distinguishable by non-native speakers. These pairs are from Italian. They differ only by the length of the consonants in the middle in the first case, and by the open-closed distinction of the vowel 'e' in the second. In W. European languages 'open'-ness is indicated by a `-accent and ‘closed’-ness by a ´-accent on the relevant vowel.)
pala = spade and palla = ball
pèsca = peach and pésca = fishing
(On the same subject as before, I cannot help but mention that Portuguese has one of the most complex sound systems of the W. European languages. As a result it is capable of making remarkable distinctions with truly subtle means --- note though that there are large differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese. The first distinction in the word pairs that follow is so subtle as to be nearly impossible to recognize: the stress falls on the same syllable, but the accent in the second word that its sound is slightly more open than that of the first. The second pair is a clearer open-closed distinction. The third is also open-closed, but not as easy to hear. In the fourth pair, the first is slightly more open. In the last pair, I think, the second consonant is slightly more closed and slightly longer. (They both sound like diphthongs.) The differences in the last two pairs of words I’ll leave as home work.)
pensamos = we think and pensámos = we thought
avó = grandmother and avô = grandfather
sé = seat (of bishopry) and sê = be! (imperative)
sóis = suns and sois = you (pl) are
tem = (s)he has and têm = they have
vem = (s)he comes and veem = they come
colher = fork and colher = to harvest, (also various conjugated forms of this verb)
(Here are a few bloopers that are probably only interesting to mathematicians who grade homework. The first of these translates literally into some other languages such as Italian.)
The compliment of a set.
A bijection is a map that is both invective and subjective.
(Words in the English language of unexpected Dutch origin.)
pickle <-- pekel
(In fact, even an idiom involving this word was taken from Dutch:)
in a pickle <-- iemand in de pekel laten zitten
onslaught <-- aanslag
How are cows related to fish?
One has a plural that has no letters in common with its singular and the other has a plural identical to its singular.
fish --> fish
cow --> kine
quail --> quail ?
or: quail --> quails ?
It turns out that both are
possible according to this website:
(Words that can mean their own opposite. the first case is beautiful: essentially the only two meanings of 'cleave' are each others opposite. The second word already has other primary meanings. See http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cellis/antagonym.html.)
to cleave --> 'cleave to your principle' and 'this issue will cleave the party'.
to buck --> 'bucking the trend' and 'bucking for promotion'.
oversight --> 'carelessness' and 'controlled care'.
reservation --> 'uncertainty' and 'certainty of availability (of a ticket)'.
sanction --> 'to encourage authoritatively' and 'to deter by punishment'.
inscient --> 'ignorant' and 'insightful'.
to dust --> 'to remove dust from' and 'to put dust on'.
to trim --> 'to cut something away' and 'to add something as an ornament'.
liege --> 'a lord to whom allegiance is due' and 'a subject owing allegiance'. (Also as adj.)
to cover --> 'this material is covered in the lecture' (shown) and 'the painting has been covered' (hidden).
to uncover --> 'to make visible' and 'to leave out: this material is usually left uncovered by traditional courses'.
You have failed me -->
as in: 'This exam was easy; you should have done well,
but…' and 'Almost all my answers on the exam were correct,
to visit --> Possibly
controversial: 'I'll visit my family in Holland next summer' as
opposed to 'I'll visit a curse on X' (I will not go
Here is something related in
the English language I ran into unexpectedly.
It is the obverse of previous entry:
Words that are grammatically each others' opposite, but (can) convey the same notion.
The first is 'the' standard example of this phenomenon
The pair ingenious & ingenuous is a 'quasi-antagonym': ‘clever’ or ‘cunning’ on the one hand and ‘lacking in cunning’ on the other. Chymsko called this a quantagonym, and made this the foundation of a transformational theory based on the smallest changes that radically change the meaning of a phrase.
(Our favorite book title.)
'Let Stalk Strine' by Afferbeck Lauder.
(In reading a text we look for higher level units than letters.
To show that, note how hard it is --- for native speakers of English---
to count the number of f’s in the following sentence.)
Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.
(What is the mysterious geographic connection between
as an old name for a nation
in what is now (Caucasian)
(A beautiful category of entries is ‘they do not say what you think they say’. Here is an Italian example, where they do absolutely not say that their bimbo is held captive in the asylum.)
Il mio bimbo è stato cattivo nell'asilo = My child behaved badly in kindergarten
(Related to these are entries where ‘they don’t say what say others think they say’.
To limit this a bit, let’s stick to phrases or words that have (nearly) opposite meanings in different languages. Compare also with the earlier ‘opposite meanings’ in English entry, which of course is a much harder category.)
Exquisito (Sp) = out of the ordinary and good
Exquisito (Port) = out of ordinary and bad; worse than strange.
(Things you wouldn’t believe could happen in your own language. In Portuguese infinitives (ie: “to go”) are very often conjugated. In Italian consonants such as 'b', 'p', 'v', 'm', 'n', 'z', 's', and so on are routinely doubled with marked consequences (in the middle and south of the country) for the pronunciation. In Spanish interrogative and exclamatory sentences are marked by punctuation signs both at the beginning and the end of the sentence. In Romanian and Danish the definite article “the” comes after the noun. In Russian and Greek all verbs have two (often completely different) forms according to whether the action the verb represents either has a distinct finality, purpose, or place of arrival, or on the other hand lacks such a finality. In English, 'going to friend’s house' or 'walking around through the park' gives an idea of this difference in ‘aspect’.)
The modern Romance languages consist of
various 'national' languages such as Italian, French,
Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. Linguists consider many
'subnational' languages, such as Occitan, Catalan,
Neapolitan, Sicilian, Galician, Ladino, and so on, as
separate languages (See 'Ethnologue').
While all of these languages have a
documented common root, they are not necessarily mutually
comprehensible. It in fact depends. If you are from Galicia,
you obviously speak 'Gallego',
but you will also be completely comfortable in both Spanish and Portuguese.
However, a native of Lisbon and one of Madrid, if we assume no linguistic education, are much more
likely to converse in English than Portuguese or Spanish. (The same applies on a much larger scale in South America.) Nonetheless the similarities between all of these languages are striking.
In spite of popular belief, these
languages are not the direct
inheritors of classical Latin, but rather of the version of
that language spoken by the “ordinary” people, namely
'vulgar Latin'. Vulgar in this instance refers to the
language of the common people and not to dirty jokes. In
this language the complicated system of cases, with which
literary classical Latin was riddled, ended up essentially
simplified to two cases: one was the nominative, and the
second was a catch-all for all the other cases of classical
(literary) Latin. It was represented by what used to be
accusative. Possibly this meant that words were most
commonly used in the (ancient) accusative, because most
Romance nouns assumed a form that appears to come from the
accusative of literary Latin and not the nominative. All
other cases were largely lost.
That development together with the loss of the final 'm' sound in late classical Latin were apparently decisive in the formation of nouns in the Romance languages. A good example of this is that Latin '(nom) pater - (acc) patrem' became 'padre' in Spanish and Italian, 'père' in French.
As the example of 'father' above
indicates, there were local variations as well. We ended up
not a single 'Neo Vulgar Latin' language, but a slew of them (ie: Spanish, Portuguese, French, etc).
There are many details to that story as well. One aspect that comes up in the 'father' example
is the difference in 'palatalization', that is the 'softening' of the pronunciation of a word
to accommodate the lazy palate. According to the above scheme Romance could have stuck with
'patre' for father. However, that word makes the tongue work harder than 'padre' (Sp+It).
Thence it is one one more step to drop the 'd' sound altogether. Hence the French 'père'.
Yet another clue to the origins of
the Romance languages is that the vocabulary does not at all
correspond to that of classical (literary) Latin, but rather
to a colloquial/evolved version of it: 'casa', which occurs
in practically all Romance languages, does not of course
derive from “domus”, but is
related to the more colloquial 'casa (lat.)' = 'hut'. While
'domus' took over the role of
'house of god', as in 'duomo
(It.)', 'dom (Ger.)', in the common language of
the impoverished latin(ized)
people after the fall of
Vulgar Latin was never documented very well, because Latin remained the literary language in which intellectuals tended to write. Nonetheless the list of examples of the kind given here is endless, and can easily be accessed through all manner of websources.
Quotes on Cities:
(The following quote (by Renato Fucini) can be found on a plaque in Amalfi. The statement is probably true.)
'Il giorno del giudizio, per gli Amalfitani che andranno in paradiso,
sarà un giorno come tutti gli altri.'
(The following is just as
true (by Francisco de Icaza), you can find it on a plaque in
'Dale limosna, mujer, que no hay nada en la vida como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.'
Yogi Berra was a baseball
player with the New York Yankees in the 1950's.
He was famous for his colorful phrases, sometimes called Yogiisms.
The following quotes are taken from wikipedia:
'Nobody goes [to that restaurant] anymore, it's too crowded.'
'90% of [baseball] is half mental.'
On explaining how to find his house:
'When you come to a fork in the road, take it.'
'Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours.'
'I really didn't say everything I said'
This is from the `typo's in
faculty meeting memoranda' series.
This phrase is meant to recommend a proposal by Prof X to
extend the material of a certain course (note the extra 's' though):
'Let's teach this ass a lesson.'
This one explains an issue of confidentiality (the 4th word should be 'reveal'):
'I will not revile the name of the colleague who told me that.'
Brilliant Hyperboles and other Wonderful Phrases.
An uninformed belief has it
that Mathematicians aren't known for eloquence.
On the contrary: they think very hard about the most basic concepts which include
numbers, shapes, but also that most elemental form of thought: words.
The Grand Linguistic
There will always be those people up with whom we have to put and
whose language is just incomprehensible. To say that they speak
gobbledygook or gibberish might be impolite. In english we say that what
they say is 'all Greek to us', or 'double dutch'. When it is writing we comment
on, we can say it 'hieroglyphics'. The question is, what do the Greek and the Dutch
use as metaphors for complicated language? How far does the chain go to other
languages? Here is a beginning of that study. If you know more, let me know.
English: Greek, Double Dutch, Hieroglyphics
The Comma Syndrome.
A mere comma can change the meaning of statement to its opposite:
This gem could be worth 2000 dollars.
Linguistic wisdom offered by our two
Linguistic wisdom offered by our two
It is cold in Canada [in winter]. It is
30 degrees undeground!
It is cold in Canada [in winter]. It is
30 degrees undeground!
Daddie, you sleep in the day, because [at night] you watch too many books.
Do we live in Portland? No dad, we live in Portland State of America.