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I just saw two sentences like

Doing this is right. Or is it?

To me it looks like the first sentence rephrases a common belief while the second announces the belief to be proved wrong later. Am I right?

The strange thing about this construction is that both sentences are positive. Logically I'd expect the question to be something like "Or maybe is it wrong at the end?" - this way it could be expressed e.g. in German. Is there an explanations while the English construction goes "the other way round"?


OK, it's metanoia, but I'm still stuck with the exact phrasing. Nowhere I've seen this form. Would a phrase like

Doing this is right. Or isn't it?

be correct as well and mean the same?

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Um, the second statement is not "positive". It is a question. "It is" and "Is it?" are not the same type of statement. (And if that weren't enough already, they even threw in an or for good measure.) Exactly the same as in German, BTW. "Das ist richtig. Ist es das?" Also, note how you yourself just asked "Am I right?" You didn't ask, "Or maybe am I [sic] wrong at the end?" In short, I'm afraid I don't quite understand what is causing the confusion for you. Could you please clarify? –  RegDwigнt Apr 17 '11 at 10:36
    
Unlike "isn't it?", the second statement is a question using no negation - that's what I meant by "positive". As I wrote "Am I right?" I was really asking if I am right; it was no rhetorical figure introducing a discussion about it. –  maaartinus Apr 17 '11 at 11:21
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2 Answers

up vote 0 down vote accepted

We, like children, often assert things as positive when in actual fact they are a little less than absolute truth, or even false. Posing a question after an assertion this way is a very strong way to indicate a truth value somewhere close to the middle, a truth of which there is considerable doubt [nowhere near absolute]. It introduces a certain state of mind in the reader.

In that sense, you are right. The initial belief is proved wrong later.

A positive statement is stronger than a negative one. So "Or is it?" introduces more doubt than "Or isn't it?" although both do mean the same.

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Your example is an instance of the rhetorical figure called metanoia: Making a statement and then correcting or questioning it so as to possibly refute it.

Examples:

If she come in, she'll surely speak to my wife / My wife, my wife! What wife? — Shakespeare, Othello, Act 5, Scene 2

No other should taste the happiness I scorn. Why do I say happiness? — Fielding, Joseph Andrews

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