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Put another way, would using "supposedly" in the following sentence upset a neutral tone?

A variant of qi gong is external qi gong, wherein a qi gong master supposedly directs the flow of qi through other people's bodies through his or her own energies.

In the example above, I am not sure if the word is necessary. This example is a part of a larger description of indigenous alternative medical practices. I would think that people reading this description would understand that the things stated are not intended to be read as fact.

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    Yes, it is one of a number of hedging words authors use to weaken a claim or at least distance themselves from it, like allegedly, ostensibly, purportedly, or putatively. – choster Nov 2 '13 at 4:06
  • That's unfortunate. Thanks @choster. I was hoping it would be more like 'reportedly' that's used all the time in the news. – Jason Nov 2 '13 at 5:24
  • @choster It's only supposedly so. See my answer. – Kris Dec 2 '13 at 6:03
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"In the example above, I am not sure if the word is necessary." – Have no doubts, it is indeed necessary.

"I would think that people reading this description would understand that the things stated are not intended to be read as fact." – No, not at all.

"Does “supposedly” have a negative connotation?" – No, not by itself. It is the context that may give the color of negativity to it.

a qi gong master supposedly directs the flow of qi

A disassertive marker: Here, supposedly because one is told so, with there being nothing tangible to show that, to make any categorical statement that it does.

supposedly: according to what is generally assumed or believed (often used to indicate that the speaker doubts the truth of the statement).

… New Portable Battery Pack Supposedly Has 22,400 mAh Of Juice, …
Exercising supposedly reduces the risk of cancer.

This does not repudiate the claim of 22,400 mAh energy inside the battery or the efficacy of exercise in cancer cure. It merely adds the proviso that it is someone else's unverified (by the author) claim.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (David Foster Wallace)

The author doubts the claim that the thing is any fun at all. A measure of sarcasm, and clearly, negative connotation, is apparent.

Same goes with A Wholistic Aid for the Supposedly "incurables" (John Raymond Christopher)

A repudiation:

The program is supposedly now able to deal with newer terrors like spyware and keystroke-logging programs, ... However, the user is reliant on definitions being up to date – but our tests were none too ressuring on this point.

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Supposedly can be used where:

  • facts without a source
  • facts without a good source
  • author wants to take a dig at the source
  • author doesn't agree with the facts (but they don't have an appropriate counter)
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    Are you implying 'yes' or 'no' with those points? – Jason Nov 2 '13 at 5:24
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    Yes, he's implying 'yes' or 'no'. No, he's not implying either one alone. I.e, this expression, like almost any expression, can be used ironically, sarcastically, or metaphorically, but nothing requires that it must have those connotations. Or any other; connotation is largely a matter of speech rhythm, gaze direction, facial expression, and tone of voice, none of which are represented in writing. You pays your attention and you takes your choice. – John Lawler Nov 2 '13 at 17:18

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