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Here is a random quote from the internet:

American policy makers and the general public have disputed the use of aggressive interrogation methods for military intelligence.

What would be some alternatives for the phrase have disputed the use of?

Is the phrase very "high" english? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dispute as

to say or show that (something) may not be true, correct, or legal

I understand it conveys a negative connotation but I find it some how ambiguous word.

  • I'm not clear from your question, nor from the answers which have been proposed, as to whether the statement means that the parties concerned have disputed that the methods described have been used, or alternatively, whilst agreeing that they are used, dispute whether they are justified. – WS2 Jul 18 '15 at 21:29
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You may want to try "debated" for a less negative connotation, or for a completely neutral connotation, try "discussed".

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I suggest that the following is the appropriate definition.

dispute /dɪˈspjuːt/

argue about (something). "the point has been much disputed"

Google Dictionary

American policy makers and the general public have argued about the use of aggressive interrogation methods for military intelligence.

  • Depending on when the quote was written, it could mean that the existence of any aggressive interrogation methods at all was disputed, in which case denied would be an alternative and the definition in the question would apply. Difficult to say without context for the quote. – Ben W. Jul 18 '15 at 20:13
  • I'd say the meaning here was, rather, 'argued against' / 'contest'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 18 '15 at 20:37
  • @EdwinAshworth - Are you saying that every policy maker and every member of the public without exception were against aggressive interrogation? Do have any evidence for this universal agreement? – chasly from UK Jul 18 '15 at 21:38
  • Are you saying that 'policy makers' can't mean 'some policy makers' and 'the general public' can't mean 'a substantial proportion of the general public'? 'the general public have voted a street in Lower Slaughter the most romantic in Britain' [www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk] // 'UN's report on abortion in Ireland "biased" while the general public have voted against abortion in three previous referendums over 30 years.' [www.telegraph.co.uk] Unanimously? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 18 '15 at 22:22
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    I'm sorry. I don't understand your point. For example "the general public have voted" doesn't indicate unanimity, it indicates a majority. I don't see any indication that a vote was taken in the original text. As far as I can see, a discussion was indicated rather than a consensus as your 'argued against' seems to suggest. – chasly from UK Jul 18 '15 at 22:48
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The OED finds 1225 as the earliest use of "dispute" (in the form "disputing") to mean debate, perhaps heatedly. This is an intransitive use, with the topic of the debate consigned to the object of a preposition ("against," "on," "upon," etc.) By 1340, the topic has migrated to a direct object, and the verb has become transitive, as in:

How long can they dispute the boundary separating their properties?

About two hundred more years, and the word takes on the connotation of a particular kind of dispute, one that questions the validity of the other side's argument for something or even the existence of that thing. For the latter, the OED quotes DeFoe:

As to Vices, who can dispute our Intemperance?

In the example, "aggressive interrogation techniques for military intelligence" is a euphemism for torturing prisoners of war. The policy debate is a dispute in both senses of the word. First, it is certainly a heated topic of debate. Secondly, the pro-torture side has both denied that the techniques were torture and also claimed that the torture was justified for "military intelligence." The other side has controverted these claims, arguing that torture took place and was unjustifiable.

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