a colorless green bear

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kimko379, Nov 25, 2015.

  1. kimko379 Member

    Japanese - Japan
    Can you call a polar bear whose fur is covered by green algae "a colorless green bear" or "a green colorless bear"? An article in The Japan News or The Daily Yomiuri around August 2012 reported such a polar bear in a zoo. The article described the polar bear as "colorless" and/but "green". Thank you in advance for your kind replies, everybody!
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2015
  2. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I don't see how something can be both "green" and "colorless."
  3. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Perhaps a (white) polar bear made green by algae. Polar bears, even without algae, are not colorless.
  4. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2015
  5. Minnesota Guy Senior Member

    American English - USA
    It seems strange to describe a bear as "colorless." English speakers would say that polar bears are white, but not colorless.

    There's a well-known sentence in English: "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." It was devised to show that a sentence could be both grammatical, but meaningless. Could it be that the writer of the article was making a subtle allusion to this sentence?

    Otherwise, the use of "colorless" is puzzling.
  6. Parla Member Emeritus

    New York City
    English - US
    This is the first time I've seen it.
  7. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Please see post # 4. The question is about a story written, in all likelihood, by non-native English speakers, i.e. Japanese. That's typical of the Japanese English-language newspaper editions. (The Japan News is an online English-language edition of Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan's largest newspaper.)

    As such, it cannot be analyzed as if it were written by a native English speaker.

    It's even more far-fetched to think of a writer in that situation as making subtle references to obscure English examples of meaningless sentences. (which, by the way, a decent American journalist would not do in the first place.)

    Like Parla, I never heard of it either before now.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2015
  8. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    British English (Sussex)
    Well, I suppose that if the article was written in English it would have been either "and"or "but". Perhaps this is your translation of the Japanese words, kimko? ;)
  9. AutumnOwl Senior Member

    Do you have seeing signatures off? I've been using it as my signature for a long time ;) and Noam Chomsky is a well-known linguist.
  10. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Yes, I immediately think of someone with knowledge of linguistics having a joke, even if it goes over other people's heads. The words 'most famous sentence in linguistics' will inevitably elicit 'colorless green ideas sleep furiously' from anyone who knows the subject at all. And if the writer of the article mentioned polar bears sleeping at all, then I'm sure it was a joke.
  11. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    Yes, I certainly thought of Chomsky's famous sentence when I saw this headline the word colourless alone is enough to echo it. However, I didn't notice it in the actual link. :confused:
  12. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    British English (Sussex)
    I think we need to see the sentence where this was used. Perhaps the OP can clarify (see my post #8).
  13. kimko379 Member

    Japanese - Japan
    Excuse me, but I fail to clarify that; I have lost the clipping of the article.
    But would you mind answering these questions of mine?:
    A. Is it not that Chomsky's sentence "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." can be meaningful and only false in these contexts?:
    1. - "Dad, do 'ideas' sleep?"
    - "Yes, colorless green ideas sleep furiously, Son."
    2. - "Dad, what kind of 'ideas' sleep?"
    - "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, Son."
    B. Is it not that the sentence is not totally meaningless but meaningful in what Steven Pinker mentions in "Language Instinct" as a skeletal semantical structure or in what Hegel must have called in "Logik" a structure of "Kategorien" (basic semantic/epistemological categories)?
    C. Is it not that the sentence is what John Haiman calls in "Iconicity in Syntax" "Linguish" that never appears in any actual non-linguistic corpuses?
    D. Is it not that you can construe the sentence as the one about personified ideas like a reversal of the monsters-turned-lies in Michael Ende's "The Never-Ending Story"? My former US pen pal said that "colorless green" can mean "almost transparent but infinitely-pale green". Can that interpretation be applied to the above construal?
    E. Or is it not that you can construe the sentence as "Apolitical/Shallow (namely, Non-red/communist, non-brown/Nazist, etc.) ecology movements activists' ideas slumber under oppression but with fury"?
    F. Chomsky had at first asserted that the sentence was totally grammatical but totally meaningless/semantically-ill-formed and that the grammar had nothing to do with meanings. But he later corrected himself in the face of the criticism of that assertion and said that the sentence only had a low degree of gramaticalness. You can, however, claim that, by the same token, the sentence only has a low degree of semanticalness/meaningfulness or partial meaningfulness.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2015
  14. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    British English (Sussex)
    We don't have the sentence, kimko, so how can we construe anything? There may or may not have been a reference to Chomsky's well-known sentence.

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