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The sentence is quoted from the Oxford American Dictionary under its entry for shuffle:

He shuffles out of the consequences by vague charges of undue influence.

Apparently, "he" has got out of some consequences, but I can't tell if he does this by being charged or charging someone else. What is the "undue influence" and how does it relate to the vague charges?

I just can't make heads or tails of this sentence, I am lost in it. What on earth is the speaker talking about?

Would anybody be kind enough to paraphrase the whole sentence for me?

  • @snailboat Of course, the first thing I checked is what the current online OED entry looks like now and thus saw that same page already. When I load the page the example I see there is the Prime Minister may have to consider a cabinet shuffle in the spring. It is possible they are serving different content based on matching client IP to a country. (I'm in Canada, where we have Prime Ministers.) – Kaz Dec 2 '13 at 8:53
  • @Kaz (As an aside, that's not the OED. Oxford publishes multiple dictionaries.) The Oxford Dictionaries Online do contain this example, as well as the one you've quoted. This one is the second example under verb, sense 3. You're quoting the first example under noun, sense 2. – snailplane Dec 2 '13 at 9:03
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"Undue influence" is a legal term used when someone is taking an advantage over another person using his social or professional position. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undue_influence.) For example, I might have to reveal something I do not usually tell anyone to my doctor. If he used such information against me, he would commit an "undue influence".

"Vague charges" means the charges are not concrete enough. The word vague means uncertain, or unclear.

The sentence "He shuffles out of the consequences by vague charges of undue influence" might look a bit unfamiliar (OAD noted the definition as archaic). It also looks almost like it needs a verb-ing after that by, e.g. "avoid the consequences by denying...", "avoid the consequences by admitting...", "avoid the consequences by having the court hold the claims...". How should we understand the sentence, which has no verb-ing after by?

@WendiKidd's suggestion clears this up. You should interpret the sentence as: he can avoid the consequences by claiming that someone else unduly influenced him (and made him do the actions he should be in trouble for).


In case you get confused (as I did) and wonder why "shuffles out of ... by ..." should be interpreted that way, please read on.

To gain the insight for such usage, besides recalling some simple phrases such as "he goes to school by bus," I searched the web and found some interesting similar uses. Having full passages, the contexts should be much clearer. Here are some of them:

if it has managed to avoid the consequences by way of vertical integration, then I am slightly jealous. (ref)

So if we want to foster innovation in students we need to learn to accept massive, continual failure. Else, we simply will avoid the consequences by inertia. If you do nothing you run no risk of failing in doing something. (ref)

[excerpt from a chat log] (ref)
How about we just stop the whole ridiculous idea of DST!?
Damn that's tonight. I hate this time change.
This is the body's natural time. It's Daylight Savings Time that is the killer.
I know how we can avoid the consequences by no more day light saving time!

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  • Actually, though I admit the sentence is a bit oddly written, I'm pretty sure what it's saying is "He didn't get any consequences for his actions because he claimed that someone else unduly influenced him (and made him do the actions he should be in trouble for)." – WendiKidd Dec 2 '13 at 21:49
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    Now I have no idea which is the right interpretation. – dennylv Dec 3 '13 at 2:49
  • However,Damkerng T.'s explanations for "undue influence" and "vague charges" are very sufficient and convincing. – dennylv Dec 3 '13 at 2:56
  • Is there anybody help? – dennylv Dec 3 '13 at 3:34
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    At the moment, I'm convinced that WendiKidd's interpretation is correct. But before updating my post, I would like to make myself a little more sure. (I'm analyzing some few similar usages I found on the web by googling: avoid "the consequences by".) In the meantime, simpler similar usages of "by" I can think of are go to school by bus, and the phrase by way of. – Damkerng T. Dec 3 '13 at 3:53
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It can be paraphrased as: "He avoided the consequences by implying that somebody (else) exercised power (influence) improperly". Not your everyday spoken English!

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  • @Chenmunka: yes, but a much simpler one. – Merk Jul 2 '14 at 7:57
  • @Merk The accepted answer already says “You should interpret the sentence as: he can avoid the consequences by claiming that someone else unduly influenced him”. This answer is not only not simpler (shorter ≠ simpler), it is arguably incorrect (it changes the example to past tense). – Tyler James Young Jul 2 '14 at 19:48
  • That's an interesting point about the change of tense. I didn't even notice, it just seemed natural to discuss it in the past. – drenerbas Jul 3 '14 at 7:54
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This sentence might be easier to understand if we try and imagine it in context. Let me frame it as the answer to a question:

Question: He's always breaking the rules, why doesn't he get in more trouble?

Answer: He shuffles out of the consequences by vague charges of undue influence.

Break it Down

Shuffles out of the consequences

The definition you've cited describes "shuffle out of":

Get out of (a difficult situation) in an underhand way.

This is basically just saying that he should face consequences but avoids them, while implying that the way in which he avoids them is not entirely honest. The rest of the sentence describes the manner in which he avoids them.

by vague charges

Vague is an adjective describing the plural noun 'charges'. It means that the charges are not clearly and fully described. Often when one makes up excuses, they are intentionally vague to protect against future examination.

Charges is being used here in the 'accusation' sense, although I think a better synonym for this specific usage would be claims in the sense of "a new statement of truth made about something, usually when the statement has yet to be verified".

of undue influence

This phrase describes the type of charges he is vaguely making. They are charges of undue influence. This means he is saying that someone has used their position of power to influence him in an improper way. In other words, that someone else made him do it.

Paraphrase

Question: He's always breaking the rules, why doesn't he get in more trouble?

Answer: He gets of trouble by making vague claims that someone made him do it.

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