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Do Colorless Ideas Sleep Furiously? David Policar In a recent conversation with another friend of mine interested in linguistics and cognition, the phrase "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" came up.
In fact, it's an intentionally and egregiously meaningless sentence, hence its popularity. I believe it was first coined by Noam Chomsky, though I could be wrong. Nevertheless, I'll be referring to it as the Chomsky sentence hereafter.
Anyway, we got to thinking about just what it was that made it meaningless. Basically, the Chomsky sentence is the opposite of an Escher print: Things can certainly sleep, and actions can be performed furiously, but "colorless green" is Ideas for writing contradiction, and "sleep furiously" has difficulties associated with it, and assigning either phrase to "idea" does serious violence to our idea of what ideas are, what properties they have, and what they can do.
And this is all pretty self-evident to any native English speaker. I recommend, before reading further, that you assure yourself that the Chomsky sentence really is meaningless Well, the word "green" can mean "inexperienced.
We certainly don't understand the adjective to imply color, when used in this sense.
And so, by the same token, a "green idea" would be a new idea, one that has not been thought through clearly. It's an unusual construction, and clearly a metaphorical one, but perfectly reasonable.
In fact, it's far more reasonable than the more common "half-baked idea," which raises nary an eyebrow, or the clearly ridiculous "mauve idea. At the very least, ideas are commonly said to lie dormant, and the use of "sleep" as a general term referring to a state of dormancy is common.
Seeds in wintertime are often said to be sleeping; one may be accused of anthropomorphism in saying so, but not of incoherence.
So "ideas sleep" is meaningful in the same way. For example, "The idea of democracy slept undisturbed for many years until awoken by the events of the American Revolution. Thus, we have a proto-Chomsky sentence: That green ideas sleep is largely intrinsic to the definition of a green idea.
Of course, we all know -- well, most of know, or at any rate believe -- that ideas don't have colors. An idea can be of a color, or of something colorful, but that's an entirely different proposition -- the idea itself is not visible, and therefore can't have a color.Providing educators and students access to the highest quality practices and resources in reading and language arts instruction.
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