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I started to read Mark Twain's book titled as "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". At the very beginning of the book I came across with this sentence:

I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe the Mary.

Now I have two questions:

  1. Is that "I never seen" part correct? Does it have anything to do with the dialect?

  2. I cannot fully get the meaning of the sentence; Would you please tell me the meaning of the sentence in plain English. Particularly, I have problem with the "but" and "without it" parts.

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    As for your first question: It has everything to do with dialect. Plan to see a lot more of this kind of language if you plan on finishing this book – particularly between quotation marks. – J.R. Dec 24 '16 at 10:30
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    Interesting this quote has a "," between "lied" and "one time", many don't have the comma. This commentary may help you. – Peter Dec 24 '16 at 10:45
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    These are the sort of "substandard" speech characteristics that are supposed to be eradicated by book learnin'. I've never seen anyone but (he or she) had lied at one time or another, i.e. who had not lied at some time in his or her life. Without it was = except. Regional dialects can preserve speech characteristics which get eroded from the dialect that rises to become the "standard" dialect. These uses of but and without are very old ones. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 24 '16 at 14:47
  • @TRomano I see. That was difficult for me to unravel those "but" and "without". – Cardinal Dec 24 '16 at 14:56
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The idea can be phrased like the following :

I never met anybody who didn't lie from time to time. I think the only exceptions were Aunt Polly,the widow and Mary.

He is not sure about Mary though.(Don't use the before the name). I think the author wants to show that the boy is not educated and homeless. Nobody taught him.It's a literary device based on a dialect."Without it" means without this fault"(lying).

  • Possibly the Mary is a respectful reference to the Virgin Mary? For sure it's not standard English, to say the <name>. I'm wondering whether without it is actually meaning except for, the implication being a rising hierarchy of very special women. – djna Dec 25 '16 at 7:14
  • "the Mary" is a term of familiarity/endearment which is not current in standard English. Compare German "der Johann" or "die Greta", and "without" means "excepting"; and it there is expletive aka "dummy it". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 25 '16 at 17:53
  • There's no article in the original text. – V.V. Dec 25 '16 at 18:14

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