Sentences up with which we find it amusing to put.


Cautionary Comments:

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 US) English. Some foreign phrases may not, at first sight, even sound very interesting to native speakers of the quoted language. An example of this is the 'bimbo' sentence in Italian
(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.

hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach.

 (If you understood the Fliegen sentence and still feel lucky try the following three sentences.)
Grillen Grillen Grillen grillen, grillen Grillen Grillen Grillen.

Als in Graven graven gravengraven graven, graven graven Gravener gravengraven.

zagen zagen zagen zagen zagen, zagen zagen zagen zagen zagen.

(Here is one that is nearly impossible to say:)

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 St. Augustine.)

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.

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 graffiti?
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 'raft 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),
a 'charm of hummingbirds', a 'gaze of raccoons', a 'string of ponies', a 'congregation
of alligators', a `crash of rhinos', 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
specific usage: '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 lashing
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 examples
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, congregation, crash, pride, string, 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,
, brood,
copse, cabal, batch, book, skein, quiver, pencil, passel, shoal, peal, spate, smattering,
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.)

Le Vasistdas

(Six infinitives in succession)

Ik zou jou wel eens willen hebben blijven zien staan kijken tot
het conflict een einde nam.

(If you think Italian is operatic and easy, try this tongue twister = 'sciolilingua'.)

Se l'Arcivescovo di Constantinopoli si volesse disarcivescovisconstantinopolizzare, vi
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

  =  seat (of bishopry)  and    =   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 opposite 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

Plurals are undeniably interesting, even over and beyond the previous entry.

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

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, nonetheless …'.

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 there) .

invaluable --> 'priceless' (sic)???

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

flammable  vs. inflammable

 valuable  vs. invaluable  (the first connoting great value; the second, a value greater than calculable; colloquially they are very close).

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 Spain and the East?)

Galicia = region in Spain as well as one in Poland/Ukraine.

Iberia = a traditional name for the Iberian peninsula as well

      as an old name for a nation in what is now (Caucasian) Georgia.

(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 with
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

    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
(ized) people after the fall of Rome, 'casa' became 'house'.

   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

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 Granada (Spain))

'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.'
'Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical'.
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.'
'Pair up in threes.'
'We were overwhelming underdogs.'
'The future ain't what it used to be.'
'If you don't know where you're going, you might wind up somewhere else.'
'It gets late early out there.'

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.

'A shit storm of biblical proportions'.

The Grand Linguistic Transfer Matrix.
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
Rumanian: Greek, Chinese
Chinese: Book From The Sky (presumably meaning 'outer-space' language)
Italian: Ostrogothic


The Comma Syndrome.
A mere comma can change the meaning of statement to its opposite:

This gem could be worth 2000 dollars. No, more!
This gem could be worth 2000 dollars. No more!

Linguistic wisdom offered by our two little boys.

It is cold in Canada [in winter]. It is 30 degrees underground!

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.

Use and abuse of apostrophes.

"One's friends' friends will tend to become one's friends
and one's enemies' enemies also one's friends, and one's
enemies' friends and one's friends' enemies will tend to
become one's enemies."

Source: Rapoport, A. (1963). Mathematical models of social
interaction. In: Galanter, R. A., Lace, R. R., Bush, E.,
eds. Handbook of Mathematical Sociology, Vol 2. New York,
NY: Wiley & Sons, pp. 493–580.

I almost lost an invitation to speak in a summer school.

"We think you should come in July."

"Excuse me, why July?"
"What do you mean, why do I lie??"