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Martin Gardner has died at the age of 95.

His interest in language included unusual skill in manipulating the use-mention distinction, as in this spectacular example:

One that's less impressive, but a little easier to process:

Q: What 11-letter word do all Yale graduates spell incorrectly?

A: Incorrectly.

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42 Comments »

  1. Brian said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

    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 you had put a comma between the first And and the second and?

  2. Murray Smith said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

    Punctuate the following string so as to make it make sense:

    Jane where John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher

  3. Clark Cox said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 9:49 pm

    Jane, where John had had "had", had had "had had". "Had had" had had a better effect.

  4. Lance said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

    Jane, where John had "had", had "had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher".

  5. John said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 9:59 pm

    @Murray Smith:

    Jane, where John had had "had," had had "had had;" "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.

    Arguably better if it had had a period instead of a semicolon, but then it's two sentences.

    From the same page of the Gardner book linked to in the OP, another great quote: "That that that that that signifies is not the that to which I refer."

  6. HP said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

    I would like to have been there when Martin went back to the signpainter's shop to get billed 200 bucks for a sign that reads:

    Martin's "Fish"-and-"Chips" Shoppe

    That's how these things happen, you know.

  7. Elijah said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 10:46 pm

    You know, that sentence was a little hard to follow. Wouldn't it have been clearer with quotation marks? And how many "ands" would be required for the sentence describing how to fix it? I think Mr. Gardner broke English.

  8. Chris said,

    May 24, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

    Lance made me just about choke on my lemonade.

  9. Gordon Campbell said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 1:04 am

    Not quite as exciting (merely a quintuple ‘that’) but I’ll throw it in anyway because it’s relevant to recent discussions of 'that' vs. 'which' for integrated relative clauses:

    He said that that that that that man said was correct.

    And if you happen to like that that that that that that that appeared in that sentence, we could probably keep it going forever.

  10. Flossy said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 2:02 am

    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

    [(myl) Indeed.]

  11. Chas Belov said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 2:27 am

    Ah, Martin Gardner. I remember enjoying reading his books many years ago. I must say I was never particularly good at solving his puzzles, but his genius lie in that they were so interesting I enjoyed them anyway.

  12. Mr. B said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 2:47 am

    Martin Gardner gave a lengthy interview in 1979 to The Two-Year College Mathematics Journal on the eve of his departure from his "Mathematical Games" column. It was boiled down to just a few pages for publication, but I kept a complete transcript of the entire conversation. I dug out the 31-year-old interview typescript, scanned it, cleaned up the results, and posted it. Martin's fans can enjoy reading his comments about his life and work.

    Martin Gardner Interview, 1979

  13. Yuval said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 2:53 am

    @Gordon: http://blazinghyphens.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/that/

  14. Doreen said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 4:13 am

    @Lance: That made me do a LOL.

  15. Kylopod said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 4:14 am

    I hate to say, "I hate to say 'I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so' but I hate to say I told you so but I told you so" but I hate to say "I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so" but I hate to say I told you say but I told you so.

  16. John said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 5:19 am

    Recursion recursion recursion recursion creates creates creates creates even more recursion.

  17. Mark P said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 8:15 am

    Does this mean that and=1?

  18. Mark P said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 8:21 am

    Oops. That's not right. And = 21^(-21)?

  19. Mark P said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 8:23 am

    Rats. 21^(1/21).

  20. Mark P said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 8:48 am

    I fail. and = 21^(1/20)?

  21. Graham said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 9:43 am

    Mark P: It depends on what and^21 actually equates to, which isn't explicitly specified…

    However, if we're saying that (given a string of 21 ands in the sentence),

    and^21=21

    then:

    and=21^(1/21)

  22. MJP said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 10:00 am

    @Gordon Campbell: Clark and John, where Lance had had 'had "had", had "had had had had had had had had' had had 'had had "had", had had "had had". "Had had" had had'. 'had had "had", had had "had had". "Had had" had had' had had a less lemonade-choke-inducing effect on Chris. And so on.

    I'll get my coat.

  23. greg said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    @Graham & @Mark P – clearly and=and

  24. Robert Morris said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    Since everyone seems to be sharing there's, here's one more. Credit apparently goes to Dr. William Rapaport for this one: "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." (It's also featured in Pinker's THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT and moderately useful in showing the importance of suprasegmentals. :))

  25. stephen said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    One of my favorites is "the proof of the spoof is in the putting."

    I've read that it's rude to tell me that I'm being rude.
    But is it rude to tell me that it's rude to tell me…?

    etc.

  26. Mark P said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 10:44 am

    @Graham said

    We have "and" raised to power 21, and then a string of 21 ands. I assume that means and^21 = 21*and.
    So,
    and^21 = 21*and
    and^20 = 21
    and = 21^(1/20)

    Right?

    [(myl) In the standard mathematical notation where string-juxtaposition means multiplication, "21*and" would be equivalent to " and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and + and", whereas "and^21" would mean " and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and", which is different.]

  27. Craig Russell said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 11:21 am

    May I offer a slight correction? To avoid confusion, I'll use quotation marks.

    Wouldn't the sentence "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?" have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before "Fish" and between "Fish" and "and", and between "between" and "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 "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 "and", and "and" and "And", and "and" and "and", and "and" and "and', and "and" and "and", and "and" and "Chips", and "Chips" and "as", and "after" and "Chips", as well as after "Chips"?

  28. Hugh Soar said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    Ask a medieval cook for a piece of battered cod and be prepared for a surprise !.

  29. Mark P said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

    @myl – Yes, but that makes it too easy (and=and, as Greg said said) and doesn't allow for enough wander. If we assume that it is possible to find the value of that and and that the given information is sufficient, the string has to be interpreted differently.

  30. Mark P said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    Also – programming tends to influence one's concept of written standard notation. Operators reduce ambiguity.

  31. Prof. Bleen said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

    If you like fish, fish fish. Fish fish fish too for this reason.

  32. Leonardo Boiko said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

    Since we already have buffalos and fishes, I’ll have to quote @ryanqnorth:

    > I much prefer "Police police police police police police" as in an answer to "Who polices the police police?

  33. Sili said,

    May 25, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

    A is A?

    Chicken chicken chicken chicken chicken.

  34. Cialan said,

    May 26, 2010 @ 12:26 am

    And of course the hover text in today's xkcd: http://xkcd.com/745/

    Apparently someone reads Language Log. Who wouldn't? :)

  35. Aaron Davies said,

    May 26, 2010 @ 7:57 am

    it's interesting to note that the classic "had had" passage only really works in dialects that have "had" for "would have had". it took me quite a while to figure out what was going on the first time i saw it, since my english doesn't work that way.

  36. Daevol said,

    May 26, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

    @Flossy:
    >> Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
    Interestingly enough, I can't find a way to parse this. The capitalization has me beat; except for the first Buffalo, it has to be the city…

    Buffalo bison [that] Buffalo bison bully… Nope, you need 'buffalo' next.

    Bison bully Buffalo bison [that]… Nope, you need 'Buffalo' next.

    [You] bully bison [that] Buffalo bison… No, still no dice.

  37. Jorge Sum said,

    May 27, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

    Are there not some Yale graduates who would spell "incorrectly" incorrectly instead of correctly spelling it "incorrectly"?

  38. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    May 28, 2010 @ 3:04 am

    @Aaron Davies: The "had had" passage is not dependent on that variation. "Had" is always used in my idiolect as the auxiliary verb to form the past perfect, as in, "He had walked home earlier that day." I do not think it is not being used as a subjunctive, although that use does occur in my idiolect: "If I had had the keys, I could have gotten into the apartment," rather than "*If I would have had the keys, I could have gotten into the apartment."

    Furthermore, the past participle of "have" is also "had", and the past participle is the other part of the past perfect form of a verb. So "had had", usually pronounced [həd 'hæd] or [əd 'hæd], is the past perfect form of "have", and the only valid one in my idiolect.

    Are there dialects of English in which this is not the case? Or in which "have" is never used in the past perfect?

  39. Rick Bryan said,

    May 28, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

    @Daevol:
    [Those] Poughkeepsie bison, [which] Utica cattle bewilder, baffle Schenectady oxen.

  40. Daevol said,

    May 30, 2010 @ 9:05 pm

    Rick Bryan: Nope. Count your buffaloes.
    You have "cattle bewilder, baffle" where there's only supposed to be two lowercase "buffalo"s. That was my first example, I believe.

    I wonder how many "buffalo" sentences, with capitalization, can be interpreted grammatically…

  41. John said,

    June 2, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

    @Daevol: At one time back in math grad school, we wasted a bit of time pondering the function B(n), defined as: the number of distinct grammatically-correct English sentences that can be formed by a string of n consecutive instances of "buffalo" (allowing for some subset of them to be capitalized).

    Executive summary: we decided there's probably no nice closed-form formula for B(n), but that its growth rate must be exponential. (I.e. there's some number Z such that 1 < Z < infinity and as n becomes large, the value of B(n+1)/B(n) tends towards Z.)

  42. summer reading report « meta-meta-medieval said,

    October 11, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

    [...] Language Log: and²¹ [...]

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