02 January 2005


You know how sometimes you'll quote something and all the people in the quote will be referred to as "some guy" or "the other guy"? Well, I've recently gotten names to fill in for a couple of those stories:

1. J.L. Austin & Sidney Morgenbesser. The New York Times Magazine ran a brief profile of Morgenbesser, a professor of philosophy at Columbia who passed away this year.

In the academic world, custom distates that you may be considered a legend if there is more than one well-known anecdote about you. Morgenbesser, with his Borscht Belt humor and preternaturally agile mind, was the subject of dozens. In the absence of a written record of his wisdom, this was how people related to him: by knowing the stories and wanting to know more. The most widely circulated tale - in many renditions it is even presented as a joke, not the true story that it is - was his encounter with the Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin. During a talk on the philosophy of language at Columbia in the 50's, Austin noted that while a double negative amounts to a positive, never does a double positive amount to a negative. From the audience, a familiar nasal voice muttered a dismissive, "Yeah, yeah."

2. Michael Replogle. The first WATCH awards ceremony I attended was in 2001. WATCH's system is to have winners and nominees from the previous year present the awards for the current year. Michael won for directing Richard III for The Arlington Players, which also won for best play. So he went up to present the best director or best play award (note: please insert here the usual disclaimer about how the nomination is what is important and the award recognizes excellence, not "bests." Okay, whatever, moving on.) and there was lots of applause. Being the smart ass that he is, Michael looked around the room, cocked his head slightly, and said "Yeah, yeah, yeah, applaud. I got one of these empty salt shakers last year and none of you bastards ever called me." David and I have been calling the WATCH award "that empty salt shaker" ever since and it's very gratifying to know whom I'm quoting.

Two notes: 1. I'm sure that I have horribly misquoted Michael, which is a pity. And, of course, it's a much better experience when you hear it from Michael directly. The next time he tells that story I'll pay more attention to the wording. 2. The WATCH award is a small-ish glass or lucite (I dont' know for sure, I've never won one. Hmphf.) statue shaped like the Washington monument, so comparing it to an empty salt shaker is pretty apt.

Nothing we pedants like better than correct attribution. "It's like eight hours at the sea side." (W.S. Gilbert!)

1 comment:

Will said...

Thank you for a great pro-pedant quotation. Nice to see G&S making it to the blogosphere too.