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The complete sentence runs as follows:

The judges unanimously disagreed that he was fit to compete.

What does it mean?

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    It does seem a bit self-contradictory at first, but the "disagreed" here does not mean that the judges disagreed with each other but that they disagreed with the presumption that he was fit to compete.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 16, 2018 at 0:39
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    @HotLicks Is probably right but I'd love it if the sentence meant "they all agreed to disagree among each other", like an ackowledged state of chaos :-) Oct 16, 2018 at 9:38
  • I guess the writer is trying to convey that the verdict from the judges was unanimous decision rather than a majority decision. I agree it's a little clumsy. Oct 16, 2018 at 17:51
  • This could also be an example of writing to form. I have seen this often in process-based decisions like legal documents and government decision-making, e.g. The judgement is <decision> that <defendant> is <proposal>. They do this for clarity across documents and then journalists copy that to ensure the facts are described accurately. Oct 16, 2018 at 23:42

3 Answers 3

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Someone was asserting that he was fit to compete. The judges all disagreed with that statement. In other words, the judges all disagreed with the statement that he was fit to compete; in other words, the judges all disagreed that he was fit to compete; in other words, the judges unanimously disagreed that he was fit to compete.

Not exactly a specimen of good writing, I have to say…

[Edit: Dan points out, and I agree, that this could also be 'a deliberate play of on words from the standard unanimously agreed used for effect'.]

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    Since "unanimously disagreed that he was fit" is in the questions, shouldn't you say: i.e., unanimously agreed that he was unfit"?
    – Martin F
    Oct 16, 2018 at 4:46
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    @MartinF Agreeing with something and disagreeing with the opposite aren't necessarily the same thing, I wouldn't call myself fit but I also wouldn't call myself unfit
    – user300397
    Oct 16, 2018 at 6:30
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    "Not exactly a specimen of good writing" - It sounds slightly contrived to me, though also sounds like a deliberate play on words from the standard "unanimously agreed" used for effect.
    – Dan
    Oct 16, 2018 at 9:22
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    @NickA That may be true when using the word "fit" in a general context as in "good physical shape" (I also think of myself as neither particularily fit nor particularily unfit). But when used in "fit to compete", then you're either fit or you're unfit.
    – Arthur
    Oct 16, 2018 at 12:29
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    @NickA and that comment wasn't in general it was in context. Do you think this specific instance is wrong? And if not, I'm not sure what that comment was about, as the statement "Turtles aren't on Mars" is an equally valid thing to say and is about as related.
    – VLAZ
    Oct 16, 2018 at 14:01
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Here's what it means:

All of the judges decided that he was unfit to compete.

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    Same as @linguistictum's answer?
    – Martin F
    Oct 16, 2018 at 4:48
  • The same in effect, but linguisticturn did not take that last step. Oct 17, 2018 at 5:36
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The key here is recognising that "disagreed" isn't standing on its own. It's actually paired with the following phrase - "disagreed that (assertion)", and loses its meaning if separated.

You can say that "the panel unanimously agreed" without saying what they agreed on; you can't say that some people unanimously disagreed without knowing the idea (at least implied) with which they disagreed.

We could expand the original sentence to make it clearer: "The judges were unanimous: each one disagreed that he was fit to compete."

A version where the claim is implicit: "He said he was fit to compete. The judges unanimously disagreed."

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