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The following sentence is from an article of Harry Frankfurt who is a professor from Princeton University:

It must be part of the point of saying that humbug is "short of lying," that while it has some of the distinguishing characteristics of lies, there are others that it lacks.

How should I understand the second "that" (in bold) here? Does it refer to "it" in the sentence or is it an object of the word "saying"? How should I understand this sentence?

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Why down vote? Is my question too stupid? Could the one who did it provide a suggestion for improvement of the question? –  Jack Mar 5 '12 at 1:22
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

It's a simple Extraposition.

However, it's not correct to say that the boldfaced that refers to it in the sentence. In fact, neither that nor it has any reference at all. They're both function words; that is a complementizer which introduces a tensed subject Complement clause, while it is a dummy subject introduced by Extraposition to keep the subject slot open.

This sentence comes from something like the following, with all pronouns expanded:

  • That while humbug has some of the distinguishing characteristics of lies, there are other characteristics that humbug lacks must be part of the point of saying that humbug is "short of lying".

This is even less clear, which is why Extraposition moves the entire subject

  • that while humbug has some of the distinguishing characteristics of lies, there are other characteristics that humbug lacks

(leaving it behind as the the dummy subject) to the end of the verb phrase

  • must be part of the point of saying that humbug is "short of lying"

where it can be parsed more easily. Well, somewhat more easily, anyway. This is a good place to use the fact that, and to emphasize the contrast between some and others to make the parallels clear.

  • The fact that humbug has some of the distinguishing characteristics of lies, but lacks others, must be part of the point of saying that humbug is "short of lying".
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Hmm, it's helpful. –  Jack Mar 5 '12 at 1:33
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"That" attaches to "the point" here. So the reason for the saying that humbug is short of lying is that it shares some but not all the characteristics of lies.

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What's "it" here then? –  Jack Mar 4 '12 at 23:17
    
The first that does. But the second one is the one that's boldfaced. –  John Lawler Mar 4 '12 at 23:28
    
In this case, it is "humbug". –  Christi Mar 4 '12 at 23:29
    
@john lawler The second bolded "that" attaches to "the point", the first forms part of a phrase with "saying". –  Christi Mar 4 '12 at 23:31
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