Double Positive

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Sidney Morgenbesser, philosophy professor at Columbia University, died yesterday. NPR had a little tidbit on him this afternoon, demonstrating that a famous urban legend really happened. One of his colleagues was on the air recounting it.

J.L. Austin was giving a talk formal semantics and pragmatics or something like that, and he said something about double negatives canceling out and making a positive but that double positives never turn to a negative. Morgenbesser, under his breath and not expecting to be heard, said "Yeah, yeah..." Everyone in the room did hear and of course broke out in laughter.

I heard this story without any names and without it being said to be even related to philosophy. I think it was "Yeah, right!" instead. I had assumed it was just another urban legend like most stories about professors, but it turns out to be a true urban legend.

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