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The subordinate clause "From the way..." I understand the meaning of, however the main clause's meaning I do not. Would, if rephrased as, "I wouldn't wonder this time but what he [would die from]", be meaningfully equivalent to the below quote?

"From the way he cut up the other time you went away, I wouldn't wonder this time but what he died"

  • Could it be that last time he got sick, and this time maybe died? I wouldn't wonder that maybe (but what) ... – Yosef Baskin Jul 12 at 14:19
  • Sorry I should have explained the context of the situation. The sentence is from White Fang by Jack London. [he] refers to a dog (White Fang) and the person who states the quote is a farm hand or the equivalent for someone who works on a ranch who is commenting on White Fang's devotion to being in close proximity to his master and doing anything to achieve this. I don't know if this would help however – TomDot Com Jul 12 at 14:37
  • It's an archaic way of saying "except that". – Hot Licks Jul 12 at 17:09
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"From the way he cut up the other time you went away, I wouldn't wonder this time but what he died."

This is almost incomprehensible to a speaker of Modern English, who would probably guess it meant "I wouldn't be surprised if he died."

However, this is not quite accurate and it is best to understand but what and but that as an idiom in which the that/what can be ignored:

The OED

  1. After various verbs in negative or interrogative constructions, reversing the effect of the negative or interrogative so as to affirm more emphatically the dependent clause (e.g. I don't know but she's got notions into her head = ‘I think it likely that she's got notions into her head’). Frequently in but that.

Thus

"From the way he cut up the other time you went away, I think it is likely that he will die.”

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