Date: Thu, 16 Nov 1995 16:33:45 EST


Subject: Re: Fw: HUMOR: Thought for Wednesday, Nov 15, 1995 (fwd)

Here we go again. Some of you will remember this exchange from not that long


[ADS posting, 11 Oct. 1994]

Relevant true story: At a major international conference, a pompous

speaker droned on and on to a packed crowd. After what seemed an

eternity, he finally built to his point, declaring: "In English, for

example, there is not a single example of a double positive which means

its negative." At this point, the noted Princeton philosopher, Saul

Kripke, rose from his seat near the back of the audience and shouted;

"SURE, SURE!" The speaker has not been seen much since.

-- Jim Beniger

University of Southern California


prompting this response:

I don't know if the story is apocryphal, but I've always heard it cited

(including every time I have talked about "logical" double negation before an

audience containing philosophers) along the following lines:

[Speaker] "...and while two negations often cancel out to an affirmative,

there is no known attestation of two affirmatives reducing to a


[Sidney Morgenbesser, in a loud sotto voce] "Yeah, yeah."

I've come across the same anecdote a few times in print since including it in

my 1989 book "A Natural History of Negation" (p. 554) and in my 1991 CLS

paper "Duplex Negatio Affirmat...: The Economy of Double Negation" (plug,

plug) and each time the attribution was to Morgenbesser. From what I've heard

of Morgenbesser, master of the rapier-like counterexample through many decades

at Columbia, and what I know of Kripke, the standard version of the anecdote

appears more likely. But vas I dere, Charley? No.

Larry Horn


Since then, it's made the e-rounds a couple of times and appeared, in two

different version, in the Times "On Language" column, once introduced by

Safire and once by someone else. Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe, move over!

--Larry (today)