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How do (1) and (2) below differ? What, if anything, does Despite change?

  1. Lacking medical education, my stockbroker surmises that monkeypox will become pandemic, and crash the stock market.

  2. Despite lacking medical education, my stockbroker surmises that monkeypox will become pandemic, and crash the stock market.

4 Answers 4

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In general, the clause “Lacking medical education,” in the first sentence, implies that the reason the broker does what she does is that she lacks medical education. You could make this fairly weak implication explicit with something like, “Because she lacked medical education,” or “Due to her lack of medical education, ....”

In the second sentence, adding “Despite” to the clause changes the meaning, so that now, lacking medical education is a reason not to do what she did. This is similar to writing, “Although she lacked medical education,” or “She lacked medical education, but nevertheless, ....”

In this specific context, either giving the advice only because she lacked medical education or giving the advice even though she lacked medical education is critical of her, and implies she should not have spoken. However, the first sentence implies that she is ignorant about monkeypox. The second is more neutral about whether she could be right anyway.

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  • Thanks. Can you please simplify " either giving the advice only because she lacked medical education or giving the advice even though she lacked medical education is critical of her, and implies she should not have spoken."? This long sentence feels wearisome to construe. Then again, English is not my first language.
    – user8712
    Jul 26, 2022 at 2:43
  • Does your answer contradict SoronelHateir's? SoroneIHateir wrote "The second is a statement that even though the broker lacks medical training the speaker is still going to trust the broker's opinion on what monkey pox' effect upon the market is likely to be."
    – user8712
    Jul 26, 2022 at 2:44
  • @user Yes, I think I read it a bit differently than they do.
    – Davislor
    Jul 26, 2022 at 3:28
  • The second statement is definitely ambiguous as to whether the broker is to be trusted. You could imagine someone being right despite them not having medical training, and someone being wrong with strong opinions but no medical training.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 26, 2022 at 13:58
  • @StuartF Yes, I agree. See also the last sentence of the answer.
    – Davislor
    Jul 26, 2022 at 21:17
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The first would most likely be taken to mean that the speaker is discounting the broker's opinion, for the reason that the broker lacks medical training.

The second is a statement that even though the broker lacks medical training the speaker is still going to trust the broker's opinion on what monkey pox' effect upon the market is likely to be. The reasoning here is that while normally with a medical issue commentary would be expected to come from someone with medical training this isn't really medical judgement, it's business judgement regarding a medical risk to the market and for that reason the broker is likely to be trusted more than someone who actually does have medical training.

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  • 2
    Right. We can imagine that after sentence 1, the writer continues: "What an idiot!". But there's nothing negative implied in sentence 2, just that it's odd for a stockbroker to give a medical opinion.
    – gotube
    Jul 25, 2022 at 2:56
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    I'd say the sentence with "despite" could be interpreted positively or negatively - it could suggest that the stockbroker has an idea that agrees with the medical field even though he has no education in that field, or that he has a wild theory he's putting forth with no credentials to support it. Consider the sentence "despite never having passed a biology class, my uncle firmly believes that vaccines cause autism". Whether the sentence is positive or negative depends not on "despite", but what follows it. Jul 25, 2022 at 13:06
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    I disagree, the second statement says nothing about whether or not the speaker will accept the stockbroker's recommendation. If you want to say that you'd have to word it differently, maybe "Despite his lacking medical education, I'm going to take my stockbroker's recommendation on monkeypox affecting the market."
    – barbecue
    Jul 25, 2022 at 16:37
  • @NuclearHoagie I interpret your example such that "despite" applies to "firmly". Somebody who's never passed a biology class probably shouldn't trust their intuitions about how biology works (unless they had other reasons for failing the classes, and are actually well-educated about biology).
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 25, 2022 at 16:41
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    I don't agree the second is neutral or positive. Why would a stockbroker be qualified to judge whether "monkeypox will become pandemic"? The "Despite lacking medical education" seems to be sarcastically pointing out that their lack of knowledge isn't getting in the way of them having a view about it. Jul 26, 2022 at 10:07
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"Despite" with "Lacking" is a bit of a double negative, and therefore rather confusing. It helps to start with a simpler example:

  1. Having $100 in his wallet, he caught the bus home
  2. Despite having $100 in his wallet, he caught the bus home

Sentence 1 suggests that he was only able to catch the bus because he had $100 on him. Sentence 2 suggests that he caught the bus even though he had $100 on him (and therefore might have been expected to take a taxi).

"Lacking" means "not having", so we get:

  1. Lacking (= "not having") $100 in his wallet, he caught the bus home
  2. Despite lacking (= "not having") $100 in his wallet, he caught the bus home

So sentence 3 suggests that he caught a bus because he didn't have $100; 4 suggests that he caught a bus even though he didn't have $100.

Getting back to your examples, the first suggests that the stockbroker ventured this opinion because he had no medical knowledge (with the implication that if he had any medical knowledge, he might have given different advice); the second sentence suggests that he ventured this opinion even though he had no medical knowledge (with the implication that we might not expect him to do so.)

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  • Thanks. Can you clarify whether the speaker is trusting or distrusting the stockbroker, in both sentences?
    – user8712
    Jul 26, 2022 at 2:47
  • Your fourth sentence feels weird to me — "Despite lacking (= "not having") $100 in his wallet, he caught the bus home". Would a native English speaker say this? What's there to "despite"? Lacking $100, obviously he caught the bus. Or do you need to change the amount of money in your example?
    – user8712
    Jul 26, 2022 at 2:49
  • As I said, the double negative makes it pretty contorted, but yes, it would probably make a little more sense if the amount was less than a typical bus fare. Jul 26, 2022 at 11:45
  • I think any sentence that mentions someone's lack of education is doing so in order to cast doubt on the person's credibility. The difference between the sentences would become clearer if the outcome was known: "Lacking any training in winter driving, he crashed the car" vs "Despite not having any training in winter driving, he arrived unscathed at the destination". (I much prefer "despite not having" to "despite lacking"). Jul 26, 2022 at 11:51
  • To make your answer more intuitive, can you please change the amount to less than a typical bus fare? And can you change your examples to known outcomes?
    – user8712
    Jul 30, 2022 at 6:10
0

None of the answers so far seem correct as a native Br-En speaker. Both example sentences mean the same thing. That the broker has made a prediction without the (perceived) need of a medical qualification. Whether or not the broker needs a medical qualification to the make the prediction isn't important. The author of the sentence believes that it may be necessary to be medically qualified to make the prediction. The second sentence is simply a strongly emphasised version of the first. Take the phrases on their own without the complication of the insurance prediction: "Lacking a medical education...", "Despite Lacking a medical education...". They have the same meaning. In some cases the following context can inform us whether something was succesful or correct 'despite' the lack of some need. e.g. 'Despite lacking a medical education, the man saved his friend by performing succesful emergency surgery' as a positive example. A negative example might be 'Despite lacking a medical education, the man attempted emergency surgery resulting in the death of his friend'. The example of the stockbroker's prediction doesn't go far enough to tell us if the stockbrokers prediction is correct or not.

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  • Would you say, “Knowing that Alice would be there, Bob showed up,” and “Despite knowing that Alice would be there, Bob showed up,” have the same meaning?
    – Davislor
    Jul 26, 2022 at 21:20
  • @Davislor - Good example. There is an implication in your second example that Bob might normally avoid Alice - 'Bob showed up' add's context to 'Despite knowing that Alice would be there' - But what if the sentence was 'Despite knowing that Alice would be there, Bob didn't show up' ? in itself 'Despite' is neither positive or negative. It is simply a short form of 'in spite of'.
    – charmer
    Jul 28, 2022 at 6:15

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