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I cannot get the meaning of the following:

The failure to include these actions, which could be easily performed, might by their absence betray an otherwise convincing claim to be feeling fear or distress.

Could anyone please explain what "to be" here means? And use synonym or explain that? It does not make any sense to me.

EDIT: Does it mean "betray an otherwise convincing claim that he is feeling fear or distress"?

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There is tautology in the sentence; by their absence is unnecessary. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 14 '12 at 8:25
If you edit the question to include where you found that quotation, I will gladly remove my downvote. When you ask what something means, it's essential to include the context, and that includes the kind of work this was taken from. Blog? Newspaper? Interview transcript? Children of Dune? – J.R. Dec 14 '12 at 9:45
up vote 0 down vote accepted

The essence of the quote in question is “failure ... might ... betray ... claim to be feeling fear or distress.” Evidently some person has claimed that they felt fear or distress. The truth of that claim might be brought into question, or have doubt cast upon it, or be betrayed, or be revealed as false, if some set of actions were not done.

A “claim to be feeling fear or distress” is like a declaration that one feels afraid. For example, if person E says “I am afraid, fearful, and thoroughly distressed”, then E claims to be feeling fear or distress.

Among other senses of the verb betray, consider the following.

• To prove faithless or treacherous to, as to a trust or one who trusts; to be false to; to deceive; as, to betray a person or a cause
• To disclose or discover, as something which prudence would conceal; to reveal unintentionally
• To show or to indicate; -- said of what is not obvious at first, or would otherwise be concealed

The first of these senses is what is used in the quoted passage. Since the absence of actions does not disclose, discover, reveal, show, or indicate that distress was felt, the latter two senses do not apply. Instead, the absence gives the lie to or is faithless to the claim to be feeling distress, and thus betrays the claim.

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@jwapat7: Thank you. Couldn't I say: "E claims to feel fear or distress"? – Titiero Dec 14 '12 at 8:33
@Titiero, right. – jwpat7 Dec 14 '12 at 8:56
@jwapat7: And what about "betray an otherwise convincing claim OF feeling fear or distress" Isn't that also correct? – Titiero Dec 14 '12 at 9:00
@Titiero: No, the dictionary gives a claim to have..., not a claim of having... 'A claim of fear or distress' would be grammatical but jarring. – TimLymington Dec 14 '12 at 11:15
I think it's a hopelessly convoluted sentence anyway, but betrays in such constructions would ordinarily be taken to mean reveals. A more suitable word here would be belies (as per your gives the lie to). – FumbleFingers Dec 14 '12 at 14:30

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