Idioms and Language

I took a class taught by a Hungarian economist whose English was not the best. Anytime someone would ask a question about a bit of text on the slide or in the reading, he would say This sentence wants to mean that... Naturally everyone in the class noticed it, but still understood what he meant. In English I suppose we don't usually make a "sentence" an agent, let alone an entity capable of intentionality. After all, sentences are not the most prototypical of agents (like an animate human being which actually performs physical actions all the time).

But what he was saying made sense. Yes, better would be I mean by this sentence that..., but after a while, I still got accustomed to his usage. And when I was doing the readings or studying with other people in the class, I had the urge to say This sentence wants to mean...

Although the phrase would probably strike a native English speaker as funny, since it made perfect sense to me, I thought it was fine. My standard English reaction changed. (Did my knowledge of English change? What if I forgot about the fact that what I was saying was non-standard?) There was no reason we shouldn't employ that usage anyway.

Then again, English speakers do say things like This equations means... and This argument shows..., so we do agentize concepts similar to a "sentence." That might be a reason for why The sentence wants to mean... is not so strange.