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Is there grammatical nonsense?
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come_to_think
Reading:  Quine, Quiddities

Noam Chomsky got himself into the the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations by proposing "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" as a clearly grammatical but meaningless English sentence.  But I don't think that makes much sense.  One must take into account the possibility of metaphor, for fear of banning language altogether.  Clearly, in other words, boring immature ideas conflict violently during their latency.

Bertrand Russell's earlier example, "Quadruplicity drinks procrastination", is a bit harder, tho I can imagine Dylan Thomas writing it.  Perhaps it means that a man about to be drawn & quartered may refresh & console himself with the hope that the sentence will be postponed.

On the other side, in an essay on grammar in the old American Heritage Dictionary, one finds the astonishingly silly statement that "The light saw the guard" is ungrammatical because "light" is inanimate and thus cannot consort with "saw".  Animateness is not a grammatical category in English (tho it is, marginally, in Russian).  Anyway, an engineer can be imagined saying "The light [= lamp] sees an impedance of 2000 ohms looking into the transformer secondary".

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A bigger problem is that sentences that are hard to parse can acquire a sense of meaningfulness for just that reason. A good test for bullshit is to reverse a key word in the sentence and see if it becomes obviously false. If it also seems reasonable to say that colorless green ideas sleep quietly, or if there is no way to judge or discuss which statement is more true, then neither sentence is really saying anything at all.

Well, I was using the word "nonsense" in its logical rather than its dysphemic sense. All the sentences I quoted & generated are easy to parse, and one can dream up contexts in which each might be taken as true or false (modulo metaphor & vagueness). Certainly, neither the statement that boring immature ideas conflict violently nor the statement that they conflict quietly is likely to fool anybody.

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