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Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." This sentence was invented by Noam Chomsky as an example of a sentence whose grammar is correct but for which the semantics are nonsense.

John Hollander wrote a poem titled "Coiled Alizarine" (http://web.mit.edu/24.900/www/poem) in his book, The Night Mirror. It ends with Chomsky's sentence.

The results of a 1985 literary competition in which the contestants attempted to make this sentence meaningful using not more than 100 words of prose or 14 lines of verse have also been published (http://www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues/2/2-457).

There is at least one earlier example of such a sentence, and probably many more. The pioneering (yet mostly forgotten) French syntactician Lucien Tesnière[?] came up with the French sentence le silence vertébral indispose la voile licite (`the vertebral silence indisposes the licit sail') to make essentially the same point in his 1954 book (which was mostly written in the late 1930s).

There are doubtless earlier examples of such sentences, possibly from the philosophy of language literature, but not necessarily uncontroversial ones, given that the focus has been mostly on borderline cases. For example, followers of logical positivism held that "metaphysical" (i.e. not empirically verifiable) statements are simply meaningless; e.g. Rudolph Carnap[?] wrote an article where he quite literally claimed that most every sentence from Heidegger was grammatically correct, yet meaningless. Of course, non-logical positivists disagreed with this.

Examples like Tesnière's and Chomsky's are the least controversially nonsensical, and Chomsky's example remains by far the most famous.



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