Talk:Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

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Three reasons?[edit]

Talk:Noam Chomsky has three different reasons why this sentence was created. Which is right?

  • "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.
  • Afair he invented it to shop sentence, which grammar was correct, but probablity of appearance of every word after its precedensor was almost zero, and it had nothing to do with semantics, but with criticizing some probablity-based theories of language.
Actually it had more to do with criticizing Skinner's concept of linguistic development, IIRC. It's been a while since my grad level classes in psycholinguistics. Nicholastarwin (talk) 22:01, 5 February 2008 (UTC)
  • Oh boy. I had remembered it as intending to show that the function of a word was dictated by its position in a sentence. For instance, that in English, adjectives come before nouns and adverbs come after verbs.

"Afair he invented it to shop sentence, which grammar was correct, but probablity of appearance of every word after its precedensor was almost zero, and it had nothing to do with semantics, but with criticizing some probablity-based theories of language." This is as good an example of gibberish as I have seen in a long time. I would prefer to see Chomsky discussed by people who have understood what he was saying, and I do not think most of you have. Dr Dark.

The second one I've not heard before, I think that's more of a side effect than Chomsky's main point. The other two seem to be saying the same thing, ie a sentence can be grammatically correct, but meaningless, or if you like "there's more to a sensible sentence than correct grammar." At Chomsky is quoted as writing "Sentences (1) and (2) are equally nonsensical, but any speaker of English will recognize that only the former is grammatical.

  • 1. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
  • 2. Furiously sleep ideas green colorless."

from "Syntactic Structures" (1957), apparently, which should probably be added to the article if it's correct. --Camembert 12:22 Aug 1, 2002 (PDT)

On the other hand, (2) makes great beat poetry if you break off the last two words with pauses. --Brion VIBBER

A genius Chomsky he is, from my long gone school years of "Olympiads in Mathematics an Linguistics" I remember one problem: to define a plausible context in which the famous Chomsky phrase becomes semantically sensible. Redefinitions of the constituent words were forbidden. Mikkalai 07:12, 21 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Please, someone render this piece at the article's beginning into correct English.

The phrase offered proof that grammar was not the valid structure underlying language (as was thought at the time), rather that words are symbols with associated properties that will not function if they are not properly used. In demonstrating that "language" is not particular to any one localized language or culture, Chomsky's work established the theoretical basis for machine translation, and cognitive linguistics—the study of a "species-innate" cognitive structure, that provides for language development.

Mikkalai 21:13, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)

The piece is good, although complicated, English. However I'll try to break it up into simpler sentences (without damaging the meaning, I hope). -- Derek Ross 22:43, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)

That's what I was saying at your talk page; the English seems good. But the phrase "grammar was not the valid structure underlying language (as was thought at the time)" alarms me, to put it mildly. Something along the lines of your thought when you replaced the perfect English phrase
"that valid grammar (which dominated early 20th century linguistics) is not necessary for generating meaningful language".
"valid grammar (which dominated early 20th century linguistics) does not necessarily generate meaningful language".
at the Chomskybot. (BTW precisely because of that change I asked for your assistance, assuming you know what's this all about)

Mikkalai 23:44, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Okay I hope that the new text is a little easier to understand. I have changed not the valid structure to not the fundamental structure because I think that good grammar normally conveys meaning more clearly than bad grammar, so in that respect it is a valid structure, just not the most important one. Likewise I had to think hard about what Steve meant by the second sentence. I hope that I'm not too far out with my paraphrase. -- Derek Ross 23:52, 25 Feb 2004 (UTC)

In both cases you hit the nail. If *you* had to think hard, what about us ignorant ones? :-) Mikkalai 00:16, 26 Feb 2004 (UTC)

The opening of the article still implies that before 1957, people believed that any grammatically correct sentence was meaningful. Now, I am no linguist, but I find that pretty hard to swallow. I can't really accept that anybody, even less so a person who devotes their life to the study of language, would ever believe something so easy to find counter-examples to. It seems to me the importance of this sentence lies elsewhere. Someone more well-versed in this really ought to clear this up. -- 17:14, 6 September 2005 (UTC)

Disappointed these related links were removed from the article, but I won't fight it. <>< tbc 00:01, 28 Apr 2005 (UTC)

John Hollander wrote a poem titled "Coiled Alizarine" 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 has also been published.

I'm not familiar with the second link, but it seems very odd indeed not to include the first. I would have thought the poem in its entireity (three lines, after all) would have been appropriate, since it is a direct (albeit somewhat facetious) response to the claim being made by Chomsky, it has 'for Noam Chomsky' as a subtitle, and is an oft related part of the story of this sentence. Ncsaint 22:30, 20 October 2005 (UTC)

Vacuous truth[edit]

I do not agree with this:

Notice that, instead, saying all colorless green ideas sleep furiously is not only correct, but even true (see vacuous truth) since, as there is no such a thing as a colorless green idea, there can't even be such a thing as a colorless green idea which does not sleep furiously, which would be needed to deny this statement.

If "sleep furiously" is meaningless, then the whole proposition in which it appears has to be meaningless, for there is no way to determine "sleep furiously"'s impact on the other parts. Consider this sentence:

All colorless green ideas formed one after another the driving force in the Revolution.

Is is true? If it is, then the driving force in the Revolution is the set of colorless green ideas, that is, nothing. The important word here is "the". (Note: my sentence may not be perfect English, as I'm not a native speaker. I hope you can still see my point. Suggestions for a better sentence are welcome!)

I should add that I strongly disagree with the meaninglessness of "sleep furiously"; I'm just trying to point out what I think is a contradiction.

Palpalpalpal 13:29, 6 September 2005 (UTC)

As a mathematician, every sentence of the form all foo bar, where the class of objects clasified as foo is empty, is true. Your sentence is more complex than that; it could be restated as "The driving force in the revolution was foo", where the fact that the set of foo is empty is important and negates the sentence.--Prosfilaes 03:13, 1 October 2005 (UTC)

Obviously it is true that in logic, the sentences you describe are considered true. But there is nonetheless some very poor reasoning going on here. Logicians typically translate a sentence of the form "all colorless green ideas sleep furiously" as "for all x, if x is a CGI, x sleeps furiously". The rules of modern logic render that true when no x are CGI. But this does not mean that we can go back to the sentence in English and say that, in natural language, the sentence is always true. Rather, if actual English speakers tend to think of that sentence as false or meaningless, all we have demonstrated is that we have rendered it into logical notation incorrectly. One might argue that if people generally consider statements about empty categories to be false, a more faithful rendering would include the claim that there exists and x such that x is a CGI. -- Ncsaint 18:54, 4 December 2005 (UTC)
I think I did not make my point clear. Of course I agree that "(X is the empty set) implies (for all x, (x is in X) implies P(x))" is true, regardless of the interpretation of P. My point is that Chomsky's sentence cannot be translated to such formal language (if we admit that parts of that sentence are nonsensical), because the result (which includes both a sequence of symbols and an interpretation function for the symbols) would not be well-defined. "Sleep furiously" cannot be used as a value for P, just like the number 6 or the operator +. Actually, maybe we could find a point of view where 6 or + would be acceptable, but when I just wrote "sleep furiously", I meant _the meaning_ of "sleep furiously", which is what we admitted as non-existing. There is no function that returns something that doesn't exist, thus no interpretation function can be defined.
I thought my example sentence would be obvious to people familiar with translating natural language into formal language, which is the problem at hand: presuppositions usually affect the whole discourse, and are notoriously non-obvious to translate: "all the balls are in the hat", which presupposes the existence of the hat, cannot be said to be true when there is no hat, even if there are no balls. Palpalpalpal 23:00, 13 February 2006 (UTC)
I don't know if you just can't explain your example or what. I did a preliminary proof(only half assed, but I belive accurate) that your claim is incorrect. That is, provided I understood the previous paragraph correctly. Admittedly I am not that great at predicate logic but here we go. B is the state of being a ball, H is the state of being a hat, and I is the state of being inside of any hat (rather that being inside of a particular [the] hat). The fact that
(i.e. If hats don't exist, then objects inside of hats don't exist either.) and also the fact that
(i.e. Either balls exist or they do not. Obvious I know, but you said it so added for completeness.) both imply that
(i.e. If hats don't exist, then it is not the case that all balls are inside of hats.)
That is what you were saying right? Or am I missing something subtle? If I mischaracterized your argument, please clarify, otherwise let me know and a proof to the contrary will be forthcoming for your perusal. Again, I am not a logician, and I am not great with wiki formatting, which is why I request clarification. It is my belief that, at least in this case, that the natural language meaning is unambiguous. I don't actually have time at the moment to write up the proof but consider this: If balls exist, and hats don't exist, then obviously there have to be balls that aren't in any hats. But let's say that balls don't exist now and hats still do not exist. Nothing can be inside of a hat; that is obvious. We can also say of the scenario though, there are no balls that are not in hats, or more formally if we switch to a universal quantifier, simplify by DeMorgan's rule, and remove the double negation, that is equivalent to which is itself tautologous to . And so I have deduced, albeit informally that it is true that "all the balls are in the hat" whether or not "are in the hat" has any meaning. Similarly it can be shown that "all colorless green ideas sleep furiously" irrespective of whether or not it is the case that there is at least an object x, such that x sleeps furiously. If that wasn't a good enough explanation, I will include a formal proof(as formal as I can manage) for verification. Although I suppose technically any proof would be merely restating what a material implication is. 00:48, 12 May 2006 (UTC)
Just an after thought, but maybe you were trying to say that meaningless predicates have no meaningful truth value? 16:06, 12 May 2006 (UTC)
Yes, my point is that meaningless predicates (if they do exist) have no truth value. Palpalpalpal (talk) 12:08, 23 March 2017 (UTC)
I don't completely agree. The fact that a predicate, made of legitimate words combined in legitimate ways, is self-contraddictory, doesn't make the predicate meaningless, it just makes it always false. For example, nobody would call "meaningless" the statement "1987 (or 2000, or 23, or any other number) is a composite prime number", despite the fact that there is no such a thing as a composite prime number. Despite the fact that there is no such a thing as a time when Immanuel Kant was playing an electric guitar, the sentence "when I was born (or on 1 January 1900 at noon, or any other time) Immanuel Kant was playing an electric guitar" is not meaningless. It is false. If there existed no such a thing as a hat, the statement "this ball is inside a hat" (supposing "this ball" exists) is not meaningless. It is false. The sentence "I'm currently on planet Namek" is not meaningless. It is false.
So the fact that it is impossible to sleep furiously (or is it?) doesn't make the predicate "x is sleeping furiously" meaningless. It makes it false. --Army1987 11:02, 15 December 2006 (UTC)
I do agree with this, which is why I wrote “If ‘sleep furiously’ is meaningless” and “I should add that I strongly disagree with the meaninglessness of ‘sleep furiously’; I'm just trying to point out what I think is a contradiction.” Palpalpalpal (talk) 12:08, 23 March 2017 (UTC)

Incorrect / unlikely phrase structure diagram[edit]

The current structure given for this sentence is incorrect because it has an NP being headed by an adjective ('colorless'). I've included here an x-bar diagram that shows the structure using a more traditional analysis. I've kept the S --> NP VP (instead of IP --> NP I') to avoid making the diagram too theory specific. If no one has any objections, I would suggest that we change the current image to one that is similar to the image below. --lxowle

X-Bar representation of "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously"

Um, that digram is either anachronistic (X-bar theory didn't exist at the time of at which Chomsky invented this example [1965, in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax]) or insufficiently current ("NPs" are now thought to be headed by determiners, so more correctly, DPs). Not that it matters, given the advent of bare phrase structure.

Purpose of the sentence[edit]

The article focuses on a relatively insignificant aspect - the sentence's meaninglessness. But the main point was proving that probabilistic models of grammar are inadequate, and for that the meaninglessness doesn't matter, it was just enough for neither the sentence nor any part of it to had ever been used in English. Taw 00:06, 4 December 2005 (UTC)


Wouldn't using alternative meanings for each of the words to generate a meaning for the sentence be irrelevant to Chomsky's point since, green (the color) and green (the property of being unexperienced) are distinct words, despite their morphemetic and phonetic identity? I mean, it seems besides the point that some of the words have multiple meanings and we can pretend that they assemble into some weird-ass metaphor about ideas. Also, reiterating what that other guy said about how the point had more to do with statistical modeling of language than about the meaninglessness of this sentence.

If the two senses of "green" you mention were completely unrelated, you'd have a point. But one can consider (and I'd bet etymology would confirm that this is the origin of the "alternative" sense) that "green" can be narrowed to a (generally) distinctive property of "not ripened" fruits and vegetables, and thus makes a good metaphor for "young/unexperienced". Why Chomsky didn't use a color which could not lead to such interpretations, I don't know — maybe there aren't any. However, in any case, if the phrase is meant to exemplify nonsensical grammaticality, it cannot afford any interpretation. For if the phrase has one interpretation, just why can't we find a phrase which has none? Palpalpalpal 23:37, 13 February 2006 (UTC)
It doesn't matter what the meaning of the word is, at least as I understand it, as long as the word carries the same morphemetic identity. Essentially the sentence shows that if the transformative/generative model of grammar being challanged is used, then we can end up with nonsense sentences that make logical sense. so basically "green" and "colorless" only have to be adjectives of a certain sort. Chomsky is arguing that if you used this model and took a random adjective (green) and combined it with another supposedly random adjective (colorless) and a supposedly random noun (idea) that when they are plugged into the method, you would get an idea that makes doesn't makes sense but still works logically. So there are two counter arguments, both essentially based on the same flaw in his argument. One says that green could have the same morpetic property (and thus still eligible for this "random" selection) and have a different connotation that makes sense. The other argument is that even if we insist that the words have their most common or intended meanings (which violates their random selection, thus isn't fair), that the sentence could make sense with a little bit of poetic imagination. A colorless green idea could be an idea that is meant to be green but really has no color. Or even "colorless green" could be imagined as describing an invisible frog or a shade of green so pale, it is as though it has no color. The literal understanding and it's use to disqualify the grammar method leaves out poetics and irony, both of which are so important to language that removing them would mean removing things like tone, puns, humor, and essentially making language into a flat series of statements, reducing language to birdcalls or traffic signs. Certain types of verbs have specif behaviors, like transitive and intransitive, and the rules of this method already account for that. The system would not,by its own rules, create an illogical sentence like "He was afraid bicycles" because afraid can't take a direct object. Similarly, their are rules for words like "Paris" which says you can't put an article before it without other rules taking effect. You can't say "Let's go to the New York," but you can say "let's go to the New York of the future." The rules account for this. Thus, if green can't be used with "idea" this would mean that either some other adjective in the same category of "green" could be used and thus an inconsistency in the rules that Chomsky is pointing out (and therefore a need for a more specific rule to account for it) or that they should be able to go together, and that if that's the case, we are just confused by the rare combination of the two words. The same applying to colorless green. If it is ridiculous to imagine a dinosaur in a rabbit's mouth, does that mean you can't imagine it? Can you imagine a camel going through the eye of a needle? Was this statement by Jesus a non-sentence? If I say "the microscopic flesh truck swam along my crispy desk," does that mean nothing to you? or can you sort of imagine a very tiny truck built from flesh like a Cronnenburg-movie device, swimming not like a human but more like a fish, along the top of a desk that for reasons unknown was deep-fried earlier that day? It's silly, no doubt, even far fetched, but now that the idea is out there, the logically expressed idea, isn't it an image that you might think of later, even turn into a story?
Basically, by insisting that the very specific meaning of the words be adhered to, you are cheating to win the argument. You say "well your system doesn't work in this case" but when you are shown how it does, you say "no no, that's not what I meant!" If the sentence that was produced was not logical, as in not grammatically correct, then the system fails. But if it creates sentences that are fantastic and strange, it only shows the infinite extent of the language. By using words that have opposing meanings, you stack the deck to show how the system could be "disproven" but really it forces the reader, as any interesting sentence should, to reconsider their assumptions. saying "the tiny skyscraper" or "the dreams ate lunch" or even "the ivory black cat" may at first seem wrong, but just considering what that COULD mean and thus giving them validity.
I think what is more relevant to Chomsky's argument isn't that the sentence he created doesn't work beyond grammar, but why our brains wouldn't under normal circumstances come up with such silly phrases. He rejects the model more because it isn't reflexive of how the brain creates grammar, I think, not so much because the sentence don't make sense, but because his ideal model would mimic normal everyday language. If we programed a computer to use the model he rejects, it would make up crazy sentences ALL the time that we could feasibly understand and contemplate, but would be out of proportion for the common person to iterate.

--Crazytonyi 14:58, 19 August 2007 (UTC)

The model that this sentence was intended to disrupt is the idea of the language section of the brain being trained in a sort of Markov Chain, where it knows which words follow which words. The necessity in the sentence to prove this was merely that no one had uttered the words in succession, ever BEFORE. Later revelations do not matter, latter interpretations and extended theories applying meaning to the sentence ex post facto, don't matter. The mere necessity was, that when Chomsky coined the phrase, that no one have spoken it before. Now, naturally, any sentence that makes sense has the possibility to have been spoken before, so Chomsky targeted a sentence that had no clear and apparent meaning, that just ended up being that way because the words he chose to follow each other, could not all have been said to him.
I see a lot of people trying to proscribe a meaning around this sentence, in order to show it does in fact have meaning, or to say that Chomsky was targeting a different theory than he was. He sole and exclusive goal in producing this sentence was that a statistical model could not adequately explain why the grammatical version were correct, and the non-grammatical version were not correct. As with many tests that were so successful in defeating previously held inadequate theories, we simply no longer consider the inadequate theory as needing any sort of justification to disprove it. In effect, by standing on the shoulders of giants, we never see why some particular action had to be taken to be where we are now, because the theory that it was dismissing was so fundamentally known to us to be wrong.
However, unlike tests to prove that the Atom was not actually indivisible as the word means, this one is also a notable quote. This lends it to interpretation by people who have insufficient understanding of the purpose that it served. This sentence was essentially a single use test. Once used, a statistical model WOULD show the grammatical one to be correct over the other one, due to the propagation of the quote. In effect, by performing the test, the test itself is damaged, and cannot be repeated. Thus, we attempt to look at what the sentence's purpose was, not realizing that it was to dismiss a statistical model of language generation. Which, if you know anything about linguistic markov chains, they produce eery sentences that almost seem correct. --Puellanivis 21:02, 19 August 2007 (UTC)

Article title[edit]

Shouldn't this article be titled "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." with a period? It is a sentence, after all. Unless there is some naming convention or technical restriction of which I am not aware, I propose that this page be moved to the aforementioned title. If there are no objections, I'll do it in a few days. Imaginaryoctopus(talk) 06:28, 30 December 2005 (UTC)

I've moved it back, as virtually all of the incoming links don't have the period. The period isn't essential in the article title, as the phrase could be grammatically used as part of a longer sentence, for example. — sjorford++ 10:07, 25 May 2006 (UTC)
Like "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously as another pair of socks drapes backwards"? ~user:orngjce223how am I typing? 02:30, 7 January 2007 (UTC)


There is a rather famous picture of Chomsky standing in front of a blackboard with the given sentence written on it. It would be great, I think, if that picture was added to this article. I also found an other suitable picture for this article on the following site: I will it at that, though, since I am not sure about the legal issue pertaining to the use and enjoyment of these pictures. -PJ

Eduard Vilde[edit]

  • Eduard doesn't have his own page yet, so I'll have to ask this here... the dates in this sentance seem entirely wrong... he died in 1933, and then published a book in 1954 containing theories he'd written about in the late 1930s. I can understand him dying in 1933 and then a book of his works being published at a later date (1954), but the "late 1930s" doesn't seem to fit there at all. Can somebody familiar with this material check this for me? Thanks.
the Estonian writer Eduard Vilde (1865–1933) made the same point in his 1954 book (which was mostly written in the late 1930s), writing "The urchin sat on the roof and cried, as if rabbits were running along the tin-pipe towards the eternity, holding lycoperdons in their mouths", etc.
Maelwys 20:21, 2 March 2006 (UTC)

Alternative Meaning[edit]

Colorless could mean that ideas don't not have color because they are untanglable things. Green could mean that the idea of which the sentence refers to is about nature and respecting the enviroment. The reason for this is that many times people say "Think green". Sleeping furiously could mean that the ideas is left untouched for awhile, but only because nothing can be done about it, therefore it sleeps furiously.—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:31, 21 March 2006 (UTC)

Joyless[maybe 'without emotion'?](colorless) thoughts(ideas) which are of things pertaining to nature(green) are in the unconscious mind(sleep) yearn to break free into the waking mind with fury(furiously).
There you go, I don't know what you people have a problem with here, maybe you're too set in your way of thought to understand this sentence, you probably shouldn't have gone to a university to learn to use grammar properly, since all they do at universities is constrict your mind into one line of reasoning, shutting off all other viable routes, that is unless you force your mind open. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:05, 9 March 2010 (UTC)

"The full passage says..."[edit]

Is it possible we can have the quote unbolded? It makes it fantastically annoying to read when applied to such an amount of text. W guice 20:51, 14 April 2006 (UTC)

"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" =? "meaningless"[edit]

Is it fair to assume that by now this phrase is now well known enough to be synonymous with the idea of meaninglessness? (Which would, of course, mean that it is no longer a meaningless phrase.) ----Andymussell 02:01, 30 September 2006 (UTC)

Question from a different user: Anybody try asking Chomsky what the purpose of the CGI sentence is? He's still alive (as of Jan 8 07).

The purpose was to provide a sentence that people had not encountered before, and yet is grammatical. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" would never be generated by a Markov Chain (well, now it would, but when he introduced it, it wouldn't have.) The sentence didn't need to be (and still doesn't need to be) meaningless, it just had to be something that a Markov Chain would never generate, and something a child would never have heard. If you can take something that it is guarenteed that no child has heard before, and who's individual words would not occur in succession, and despite this it is still grammatical to them, then you prove that the human mind doesn't work on a Markov Chain. The mere fact that Chomsky was not imaginative enough to create a statistical model that would allow the two to be distinguished doesn't stop it from breaking people's ideas that simple statistical models showed human usage. --Puellanivis 19:29, 8 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree with Puellanivis, completely. There's no ulterior motives behind his sentence and no hidden meanings like "green" meaning "novice". It's akin to Syntax teachers using the Jabberwocky as an example of how the structure, not the words themselves, can give meaning. JesseRafe 07:10, 9 January 2007 (UTC)

A German linguist somewhere wrote that this sentence, prophetically, has a strong metaphoric meaning: Colorless = without a specific pupose -- green = islamic (green - color of islam) -- ideas = ideologies -- sleep = see: sleepers of 9/11 -- furiously = aggressively -- (talk) 12:21, 22 February 2011 (UTC)
Cute, but completely anachronistic... AnonMoos (talk) 13:02, 22 February 2011 (UTC)
When one permits the use of metaphor in defining the meaning of a sentence, you can make any sentence say nearly anything. --Puellanivis (talk) 17:20, 22 February 2011 (UTC)
@AnonMoos: anachronistic -- in which sense? // @Puellanivis People don't ask linguists if it is allowed to use sentences in a metaphoric way, they use natural languages in a very natural way. And they are able to make themselves understood, in literally and metaphoric sentences. Or: How to define the meaning of "She is an angel" without talking about metaphors? -- (talk) 17:15, 28 February 2011 (UTC)
It's anachronistic, because 9/11 hadn't happened prior to Chomsky making this sentence. Granted that, potentially yourself from another IP, noted that it would be prophetic, but again, this is no sort of meaning that Chomsky could have intended to put into the sentence. But then, prophecy by itself is anachronistic knowledge...
The point is not that metaphor cannot be used to ascribe meaning or put meaning into anything, the point is that by using metaphor any meaningless statement can obtain a meaning. So, the fact that we can invent a meaning post hoc to this sentence is trivial and unimportant. --Puellanivis (talk) 23:08, 1 March 2011 (UTC)

Lucien Tesnère's Quote[edit]

I've update the translation. "Le silence vertébral indispose la voile licite" is more accuratly reflected with "The vertebral silence indisposes the licit sail" than "The vertabral silence worries the legal sail". 03:26, 5 March 2007 (UTC)


Which picture is better?

The current one: Syntax tree for Colorless Green Ideas sleep furiosly.png Or this one: Cgisf-tgg.png

Replace with better one. -- 18:46, 5 March 2007 (UTC)

poetry contest[edit]

There was a contest in 1985 for poems and prose using the sentence: 03:28, 13 March 2007 (UTC)


The introduction includes the following line:

It can be argued that Chomsky simply was not imaginative enough to put the sentence into a context which would give it a sensible meaning.

This doesn't seem very NPOV to me, but I don't understand the argument well enough to be able to replace it. Can someone please clarify this statement? What context could it be placed in? What sensible meaning could it have? David 19:30, 17 March 2007 (UTC)

I agree that the statement falls under the category of non-NPOV, however not with reasons given above. The statement has two elements which qualify it as non-NPOV, the elusive passive voice ("It can be argued" by whom? The person who edited the article?) and that it disguises an opinion rather than states a true fact. If the sentence read "Noam Chomsky is stupid and boring" than there would be no question that it should be removed as biased. However, the problem is not whether or not a logical context can be found for Chomsky's test statement.
I personally agree with the sentiment of the non-NPOV sentence. It doesn't matter if the statement makes sense to Chomsky or most people, only that it COULD make sense to someone. Perhaps the definitions of the words are being taken too literally. Maybe a new sub-culture uses some of those words as slang, perhaps, like many words in the English language, the definitions of some or all of the content words in that statement will change over time and the statement will make sense, or, in theory, some of those words USED to have different meanings that made sense in the context of the statement. A simple example of such a word is "awful." It used to mean "full of awe" (as it was used in "Paradise Lost" by John Milton), a sentiment that modern English expresses with the word "awesome", while "awful" today convey a negative connotation quite opposite to Milton's use. Furthermore, a generation or two back, "awesome" was reserved for objects and events which truly struck a person with awe, such as the Grand Canyon or Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight, while today the word simply means "pretty good".
And even if the statement still seems nonsensical, that does not disqualify it as a sentence (or disprove the grammatical theory it is designed to disqualify) because, if nothing else, the sentence could be understood as poetic. In poetry ideas can sleep and certainly sleep furiously, and can be both colorless and green at the same time. "Colorless green" could be ironic, the ideas being green yet not really having color, or "green" could mean "fresh, inexperienced" and thus the ideas lack any real color, any real life or vibrancy because they are still green, and the use of "colorless" and "green" are used together with the intention of the writer to tickle the reader a bit with the literal conflict of the two words working together against expectation. The ideas could be sleeping because the thinker of the idea is asleep and thus his thoughts with it or the ideas are in the back of his mind incubating, or perhaps the ideas are so new that the thinker of the ideas has not quite had them yet, the thinker has only sensed the material that will formulate the still green and colorless ideas, but has not yet put it all together. And perhaps, like a cat dreaming of hunting a bird, or a person having a nightmare they are eager to wake up from, these ideas are sleeping furiously. They are violent ideas, or they are such good ideas even they are eager to be thought. Or they are repressed memories that the thinker can barely repress. Putting it all together: "The naked and underdeveloped thoughts lie beneath the consciousness of the mind yet they are so powerful they will soon emerge into the consciousness." OR "Edward was never sure what happened that summer with his older cousin, but just thinking about the beach made him feel nauseated. He wasn't even sure if it was something to be afraid of, but ever since his Uncle called him yesterday, he knew something was terrifying him. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."

This is just an example I've made up of how the sentence COULD make sense, at least to me. I'm sure with enough time, I could make up a few more totally different examples. But someone else could think of something I never would have. That's the magic of language, it's malleable and semi-subjective. It should not be up to anyone to justify if that sentence makes sense if it makes sense to that person. By that same logic, "Cows eat grass on Mars." could be disqualified simply because there are no cows or grass on Mars. But we can imagine cows eating Martian grass. Maybe they are in the future, maybe they are hiding from our cameras, maybe the grass is imported from Earth or maybe Martian grass is blue instead of green. No matter what someone comes up with, it's still a good, albeit silly and fantastic, sentence. The line can not be drawn between sensical and nonsensical based on content on semantics, only syntax. This is very well illustrated in "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carrol. If a sentence makes logical sense, it's up to the speaker and the listener to determine what it means, not Noam Chomsky.

Nevertheless, I do also agree that the sentence, as it currently it written, isn't NPOV and should be edited or removed. The argument is simple and sound enough that I would hope someone of credible authority has made it, and thus the offending sentence could be modified as an official counter-argument with a proper citation. However, if no credible source can be found, as disappointed as I would be personally, I agree the statement should simply be omitted.

--Crazytonyi 13:43, 19 August 2007 (UTC)

Queen of France[edit]

The present Queen of France could be riding a unicorn if it were pink and invisible, she would of course have to be invisible too. -- BlindWanderer (talk) 05:46, 30 May 2009 (UTC)

Remove line about George Carlin[edit]

George Carlin used a similar comedy routine called "Things You Never Hear", on his album Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics.

Unless I'm mistaking what this article is about, this line shouldn't be in this article as everything Carlin says in this routine makes sense semantically. I didn't want to remove it myself in case I was misinterpreting the article, though I think this is unsuitable. Anoldtreeok (talk) 08:51, 1 August 2010 (UTC)

Seeing as no one's replied in the past few days, I'll edit it out. If you really object you can always just revert my edit. EDIT: Edited it and Stephen Fry line out. Anoldtreeok (talk) 09:59, 4 August 2010 (UTC)

My POV[edit]

Probably Chomsky was trying to prove some simple truth, like a probabilistic aproach to language is naive and does not work at all, not that the sentence in particular is in any way meaningfull or not. Of course he understimated the controversial ability of human being in his honest and straigth attempt... Daniel N. -- (talk) 18:33, 3 March 2012 (UTC)

The origin of green ideas[edit]

It seems that "I have no green idea" is a Hebrew idiom, which originates in Polish (nie ma zielonego pojecia) according to Rubik Rozenthal in his Linguistic Ring in Maariv. But he has no green idea where it came from.

So Rubik has no green idea where I have no green idea in Polish came from has meaning.

פשוט pashute ♫ (talk) 18:49, 24 September 2012 (UTC)

Somebody could have unintentionally succeeded in contextualizing it[edit]

The WMG section of the article "Eureka Seven" on Tvtropes uses the show as an example of someone giving such a sentence meaning, though that may not have been the intent. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:02, 25 July 2013 (UTC)


Is it meaningless? That would be an even greater asking. There are many Jungians who would disagree with Chomsky at that. So this all concept of meaninglessness is mostly questionable at least, and by my opinion this should be said. (talk) 01:00, 5 April 2014 (UTC)

Political interpretation[edit]

I've wondered for a long time if a political interpretation of the sentence might not appear very obvious now. In fact, it is claimed here that it was once used as a slogan on a protest banner (or billboard?) at a congress of the British Conservative Party, although the Everything2 page linked to does not mention a banner (or billboard). --Florian Blaschke (talk) 12:52, 6 July 2015 (UTC)