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How do I respond when confronted by a person you spoke ill about me to a fault?

What does this sentence mean?

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Beat him to a pulp? – WS2 Apr 28 '14 at 5:30

From wikitionary: "'To a fault' is ordinarily used to modify an adjective which describes some desirable or otherwise positive characteristic of a person."

So "spoke ill about me to a fault" sounds like someone's misapprehension of the meaning of "to a fault."

Short answer: Ignore the "to a fault" clause. The writer likely meant:

How do I respond when confronted by a person of whom you spoke poorly?

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Assuming it's a 'fused syllepsis' for

How do I respond when confronted by a person you spoke ill about me to, to a fault?

a better rephrasing would be

How do I respond when confronted by a person to whom you were really critical of me?

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I will have to look up the definition of "syllepsis". :) Thank you for your answer!! As soon as I am able to "vote up" your answer I will. – say_watt Apr 28 '14 at 7:48
    
There's debate over the difference between 'zeugma' and 'syllepsis'. Suffice to say that 'He took his hat and his leave' is an example of one or the other (or both), with 'took' doing incongruous 'double duty' literally and idiomatically (took his hat / took his leave). The sentence here likewise seems to press 'to' into incongruous double duty. However, I'd say that omitting one 'to' also makes it ungrammatical in this case. So I've modified 'syllepsis' in my answer to 'fused syllepsis' (which you won't find in the dictionary:-) ) – Edwin Ashworth Apr 28 '14 at 8:07

Who knows? The sentence is flawed; I don't know what it means. Either of the following would probably be a better way of writing it:

How do I respond when confronted by a person you spoke ill about to me?

You are asking how to respond when confronted by a person you've heard bad things about.

How do I respond when confronted by a person who spoke ill about me?

Now you're asking how to respond when confronted by a person who said bad things about YOU.

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