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I'm confused what this sentence means. Does it mean that many people consider X respected, or that a few people consider X respected?

not a few people consider respected and X to be an oxymoron

Side question: is this sentence structure convoluted or is it just me?

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That should maybe be changed to be "not a few people consider 'respected and X' to be an oxymoron." BTW, does X = "feared" (or is there not a particular X)? – compman Apr 29 '11 at 2:30
@user7834 The X is actually the name of a person. I didn't think it would appropriate to put the name here :) – fifo Apr 29 '11 at 17:26
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It means that many people consider X the opposite of respected.

Not a few means "many".

An oxymoron is a witty combination of opposite terms.

And, yes, this sentence is very convoluted; that is probably done ironically and on purpose. It is a figure of speech that is supposed to be mildly entertaining.

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+1 OK, but it is perhaps wishful thinking to attribute to irony that which can be adequately explained by incompetence ;) – Jason Orendorff Apr 29 '11 at 15:09

I think it may also intended to convey that the author of the sentence may not agree with the statement. Maybe more than 'not a few' consider it, as in, 'many', but the author considers those 'many' to be incorrect in their usage so therefore they highlight this disagreement with the use of 'not a few'.

You could also have the complete opposite interpretation. I.e., they agree with the 'not a few' and are trying to use hyperbole. I.e., "not a few people consider wife-beating to be wrong."

It really depends on the context of use which is really hard to determine with what is provided.

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Yes, "not a few" in this case means a lot. It is an example of litotes, a rhetorical figure involving understatement through negation of the reverse (think about when someone says a thing is "not bad" they actually mean it is good.).

That said, there's something a bit stuffy about the way it's used here.

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It's bad litotes. It's gratuitous and it weighs down any already overburdened sentence. Even the corrected "many people" begs for a Wiki-esque [citation needed]. How about "The phrase 'respected and X' is an oxymoron" ? – Malvolio Apr 29 '11 at 3:57
Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. – Sam Apr 29 '11 at 5:28
I don't know. Things of this nature are really dependent on the context of use. If the author has been writing in a self deprecating manner or in a manner that is belittling of the subject at hand then it can be interpreted in a multitude of ways depending on what was previously written. Imho modern usage of this is normally done for comedic effect or to highlight interpretive irony. – Qberticus Apr 29 '11 at 5:29
@Malvolio: Wow, I wasn't even on your lawn. – Robusto Apr 29 '11 at 8:52
please don't take my comment as any criticism of you . I'm glad to see someone besides me interested in rhetorical forms (my proudest day as a parent was when my daughter pointed out an example of antimetabole on a billboard). I just thought the original sentence was bad, bad writing. – Malvolio Apr 29 '11 at 16:35

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