The Secret Sins of a pompous linguist

From Deidre McCloskey’s The Secret Sins of Economics

A very pompous linguist was giving a talk at Columbia and noted that there were languages in which a double negative meant a positive (standard English, for example: “I am not going to not speak” = “I am going to speak”) and languages in which a double negative is a stronger negative (standard French and Italian, for example; or non-standard English: “You ain’t got no class”). But, says he, articulating what he imagined was a universal of grammar, “There are no languages in which a double positive is a negative.” Pause. Silence. Then came a loud and knowing sneer from the back of the room: “Yeah, yeah.”

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11 years ago

Actually, the linguist was the philosopher of language, JL Austin, and the person from the back of the room was the very witty philosopher, Sidney Morgenbesser.

My favourite line of Morgenbesser’s is his response to Skinner:

“Let me see if I understand your thesis. You think we shouldn’t anthropomorphize people?”

More here:

John Passant
11 years ago

Love it.

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

Amusing, yes. Although one can’t help noticing a kettle-pot phenomenon … Deidre is, after all, endowed with Pomposity Squared.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago
Mark Heydon
Mark Heydon
11 years ago

I had not heard of the Dunning Kruger effect before, though meet it almost every day. Thanks for the link!