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Sentence Construction: “Just Because … Does Not Mean”

Consider the following sentence:

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not after you.

The sentence sounds fine to me, but when I think about it, I start doubting whether a "because clause" (substitute with the proper term) can be a subject clause. The following alternatives sound really stale to me:

The mere fact that you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.

That you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.

I don't know, it seems that "just because" plays an essential stylistic role in the first sentence. Is it correct? If not, how would one go about rephrasing it to keep it funny?

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Is leaving out the not in the last example a simple error? It has the opposite meaning, but I'm not sure if it's a typing mistake, or offered as an alternative as part of your question. –  Jon Hanna Jan 27 '13 at 10:40
    
Wasn't this question closed earlier today? Similar ground is covered at english.stackexchange.com/questions/1494/… and elsewhere. –  Barrie England Jan 27 '13 at 10:53
    
@JonHanna: It was a typo, sorry –  Armen Ծիրունյան Jan 27 '13 at 13:34
    
@BarrieEngland that one and that in turn linked form it don't ask about the basics of the form itself. I'd be far from surprised if one somewhere does. –  Jon Hanna Jan 27 '13 at 13:39
    
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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Robusto, tchrist, Barrie England, Armen Ծիրունյան Jan 27 '13 at 16:34

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3 Answers

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The idiom “Just because A doesn’t mean B” is entirely grammatical.

Mean here is understood as imply or have as a consequence (see 3, here), and the idiom is employed to deny that the justification ‘because A’ is sufficient ground for concluding ‘B’.

The apparent ungrammaticality of a dangling subordinate clause disappears with a trivial change in the punctuation:

Just ‘because you’re paranoid’ doesn't mean … = ‘because you’re paranoid’ by itself does not imply …

But that’s an orthographic issue, not a grammatical one.

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The first form is fine.

The general form "because X, Y" means that X gives a reason why Y is true, or happened, if it is an action as in Emily Dickinson's:

Because I could not stop for death— / He kindly stopped for me—

It is of the same meaning as:

Death kindly stopped for me because I could not stop for him.

It lacks not just the poetry of Dickinson's form in terms of how it scans, but the switch in the ordering of clauses gives a different emphasis and order of thoughts and so is rhetorically inferior (so much for the schoolroom rule against starting a sentence with because).

Now we can always deny anything we can state, and we could say "Because X, doesn't mean Y" or "Because X, not necessarily Y" etc. as per:

Because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not after you.

But this is vague. We're denying the causal relationship, but "doesn't mean" can be lost in the reading; it doesn't stand out much, so it's easy to "slide over" in reading or listening. What we want is to stress that we are limiting the because, and for that we use just:

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not after you.

Not only does this use of just do this when we consider it without knowledge of idioms, it's also a very common idiom to use "just because" in this way. (Incidentally, Oxford and Cambridge both have "just because" sentences in their examples for because while Macmillan lists "just because" as a phrase under just).

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Using 'doesn't and then 'not' later in the same sentence makes it a double negative, and grammatically incorrect. Your example starting with 'That you're paranoid' is better than the other two, but needs 'the fact' at the start of it to read more clearly. "The fact that you're paranoid."

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The double negative in this particular case is not only grammatical, but standard. It differs from the double negative (‘I didn’t do nothing’) found in non-standard dialects. –  Barrie England Jan 27 '13 at 9:49
    
Yes, indeed the problem with the last example isn't that it starts with "that", it's that it left out that correct double negative, and so means the opposite, presumably by a simple error. –  Jon Hanna Jan 27 '13 at 10:39
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