Sidney Morgenbesser Quotes

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(Actually, languages can be very tricky in this respect. The eminent linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin of Oxford once gave a lecture in which he asserted that there are many languages in which a double negative makes a positive but none in which a double positive makes a negative—to which the Columbia philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser, sitting in the audience, sarcastically replied, “Yeah, yeah.
Steven H. Strogatz (The Joy Of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity)
Why is God making me suffer so much? Just because I don't believe in him?
Sidney Morgenbesser
Many and various are the New York tales that are told of professor Sidney Morgenbesser. During a conference of linguistic philosophers at Columbia University, he interrupted the pompous J. L. Austin, who was saying that while many double negatives express a positive—as in “not unattractive”—there is no example in English of a double positive expressing a negative. Morgenbesser’s interjection took the form of the two words “Yeah, yeah.” Or it could have been “Yeah, right.” On another occasion, he put his pipe in his mouth as he was ascending the subway steps. A policeman approached and told him that there was no smoking on the subway. Morgenbesser explained—pointed out might be a better term—that he was leaving the subway, not entering it, and had not yet lit up. The cop repeated his injunction. Morgenbesser reiterated his observation. After a few such exchanges, the cop saw he was beaten and fell back on the oldest standby of enfeebled authority: “If I let you do it, I’d have to let everyone do it.” To this the old philosopher replied, “Who do you think you are—Kant?” His last word was misconstrued, and the whole question of the categorical imperative had to be hashed out down at the precinct house. Morgenbesser walked. That, in my opinion, is the way that New York is supposed to be. Irony and a bit of sass, combined with a pugnacious independence, should always stand a chance against bovine officials who have barely learned to memorize such demanding mantras as “zero tolerance” and “no exceptions.” Today, the professor would be stopped, insulted, ticketed, and told that if he didn’t like it he could waste a day in court, or several days dealing with the bureaucracy, or both.
Christopher Hitchens (Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays)