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I am reading an article and it has this sentence:

However, given the nature of laws protecting victims of rape, it will be a very difficult and highly technical legal battle to show that the accuser did not simply lack sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but actually engaged in malicious conduct designed to harm the reputation of the accused and subject him to possible criminal sanctions.

What is the meaning of the accuser did not simply lack sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction here?

It does not really fit what this paragraph is trying to say. I think it makes more sense to say

the accuser not only lacked sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but actually engaged in malicious conduct designed to harm the reputation of the accused.

  • I think the original construction is more condemnatory of the accuser - even beyond the characterization of her behavior as malicious. – user888379 Oct 7 '18 at 21:19
  • "not simply" is only suggesting the simplicity is negated, and is not suggesting that the lacking is negated. – samerivertwice Oct 9 '18 at 6:49
  • It's saying that the onus would be on a litigant to prove that it is not the case that the accuser simply lacked sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, and that over and above that which is uncertain, they engaged in malicious conduct designed to harm reputation. – samerivertwice Oct 9 '18 at 6:53
  • To prove "not simply x" doesn't mean to simply prove not x. It means prove that "only x and no more", or "not only x" – samerivertwice Oct 9 '18 at 6:58
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It means pretty well the same as your paraphrase with not only.

But there is a difference in the discourse pragmatics. The use of "did not simply" rather than "not only did" is explicitly refuting a claim that he "simply did" whatever. This claim might have been stated somewhere, or it might just be floating around in the air, and the writer thinks that people believe it. Either way, the writer is wanting to say "contrary to that suggestion which has been made/people are claiming/you might be thinking, he not only did this but also that".

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"Did not simply lack" but [verb]

is semantically the same as:

"Not only lacked" but [verb]

simply is used in the same way as only to create a complex sentence and to have the two clauses act in contrast to each other.

Here is a much simpler example to show structure:

  • He did not simply steal my car; he also stole my motorcycle.
  • He not only stole my car; he also stole my motorcycle.

"did not simply" for me here is stylistic and means the same thing as "not only". I can see no semantic difference in meaning.

Both "not simply" and "not only" signal a second clause that will be in contrast to the first one through use of "but" conjunction. In the OP's sentence actually is used instead of also.

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You're absolutely right in pointing out that the original construction is way too bulky, too verbose, and lacks verve:

to show that the accuser did not simply lack sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but actually engaged in malicious conduct designed to ...

Your version is somewhat more elegant:

the accuser not only lacked sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but actually engaged ...

Both mean roughly the same thing.

I would, perhaps, substitute "just" or "merely" for "simply," but that would be nitpicking.

  • 1
    He didn't actually point any of those things out. -1 – Phil Sweet Oct 8 '18 at 2:31
  • @PhilSweet: No, but he may have implied them. – Ricky Oct 8 '18 at 4:25
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The original is making a point that your rewrite neglects.

[...] to show that the accuser did not simply lack sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but actually[...]

This clause is fully exculpatory. It says that we understand that simply lacking sufficient evidence carries zero cause for recompense. Whereas -

[...] to show that the accuser not only lacked sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but actually[...]

Suggests the two situations are just of differing degree, hence both might be cause for recompense. This is simply not true.

Simply is being used and an emphasizer in the original, and it has a different effect than only. Not only X, but also Y is a standard bit of conjunctive grammar that isn't intensive. But you have proposed *Not only X, but actually Y. This doesn't really work actually. We use not simply, but actually to sell the idea that two things are distinctly different, not merely of differing degree.

Not simply displaying language, but actually realizing it in order to achieve some kind of purpose or other.

https://education.byu.edu/tell/transcriptions/april_2001/henry_widdowson.html

That is, if somebody is going wrong in some way, we should not simply point out the fact that they are 'going wrong', but actually help make it clear what they need to do [...]

https://books.google.com/books?id=OzkoBQAAQBAJ&lpg=PT79&ots=f4e9zQfJ9P&dq=%22not%20simply%22%22but%20actually%22&pg=PT79#v=onepage&q=%22not%20simply%22%22but%20actually%22&f=false

Not simply, but actually asks the reader to make a clear distinction between the two things being compared.

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