I (don't) doubt that the letter is fake

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Somebody just sent me a note that begins, "I don’t doubt that the letter is fake…".

From the context, I'm sure that the person who wrote the message to me is of the opinion that the letter is NOT fake.  Perhaps he is using the word "doubt" in the sense of "suspect".  Chinese do that all the time when they are thinking of huáiyí 懷疑, which means both "doubt" and "suspect", and then writing or speaking in English.  Only rarely do I encounter a speaker / writer of English who confuses "doubt" and "suspect", as seems to be the case in this instance.  However, since "doubt" means "disbelieve", misnegation may also be at issue here.



16 Comments »

  1. Phillip Minden said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 4:18 pm

    Ah dinnae doot ?

  2. Kate Gladstone said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

    In Scots, "doot" means both "doubt" and "suspect." See http://caledonianmercury.com/2012/02/17/useful-scots-word-doot/0027738

  3. Q. Pheevr said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

    “Doubt Truth to be a liar…”

  4. mollymooly said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 5:19 pm

    Compare the "but" in "no doubt but that …".

  5. Guy said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 5:47 pm

    @mollymooly

    There are a number of uses of "but" that are slightly mysterious to me, but I don't think they are misnegations, since "but" isn't a negator. If anything it's overridingly positive, since in a positive clause it retains positivity but in a negative clause it often marks the end of the semantic scope of the negation.

    In "no doubt but that" it seems to have an emphatic role (consistent with its general purpose of telling the listener to pay special attention to what follows because it might be unexpected). I think it is placing emphasis on the contrast between the actual state of affairs and the state of affairs that a doubter might expect.

  6. Ralph Hickok said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

    I've heard this construction often and it poses no problem for me. Is it really different from "I have no doubt that the letter is a fake"?

  7. Victor Mair said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 8:10 pm

    "I have no doubt that the letter is a fake".

    Then that means that you think the letter is surely a fake.

    But the person who sent the letter to me meant to say that he does NOT think the letter is a fake.

  8. Ralph Hickok said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 8:23 pm

    @Victor Mair:
    Oops! I guess I read it all backwards.

    Never mind!

  9. Jenny Chu said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 8:33 pm

    see also: Je m'en doute que … je doute que …

  10. J. Goatd said,

    April 16, 2017 @ 9:37 pm

    @Jenny Chu

    Or "I suspect it" / "It's suspect."

    AFAIK the Korean cognate has no such ambiguity. I usually see it in adjectival or adverbial constructions, and mostly think of it translating as "skeptical(ly)", in the sense of a person's general disposition or philosophy. I doubt it can ever mean 'to suspect'.

  11. rosie said,

    April 17, 2017 @ 12:02 am

    That's arguable.

  12. maidhc said,

    April 17, 2017 @ 3:18 am

    In Indian English, "I have a doubt" means something like "I don't quite understand this".

  13. Jack Mack said,

    April 17, 2017 @ 6:03 am

    I always have similar trouble with US English usage of 'See if you can't find a fork in that drawer'.

  14. Richard Bell said,

    April 17, 2017 @ 9:12 am

    In Shakespeare:
    Doubt: As both noun and verb it has much the same meaning as today. But to doubt something, to have a doubt about something, always means to fear it might be true, not simply to wonder about it. I doubt that x always means I’m afraid that x. More often than not doubt occurs in negative expressions: I doubt not, I nothing doubt, and it always means then, that I am certain of the desired result. (Macbeth 4,2,77, Hamlet 1,2,284, Richard II 3,4,72). Doubtful, then, means something like fearful in Lear 5,1,17.

  15. Bruce said,

    April 17, 2017 @ 10:25 am

    maidhc wrote

    'In Indian English, "I have a doubt" means something like "I don't quite understand this".'

    I came here to post the same thing. The interpretation here would be "I have no suspicions that the letter is fake"

  16. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    April 17, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

    I came to post about the Scots 'doubt' (I doubt he's not coming today), but although it doesn't have to have a negative verb, it feels like it has to have a negative meaning (I doubt she's coming tomorrow instead, I doubt the bus has broken down). 'I doubt the letter's not fake' sounds as if you were disappointed it's not!

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