I looked up the dictionary but these two terms are very difficult to get. could any body clarify on me?

Plausibility notwithstanding, rumors about unwitting folks engaged in otherwise low-risk activities contracting HIV have circulated for decades. Similar versions involved a booby-trapped gas pump, deliberately tainted ketchup dispensers, and adulterated pizza purposefully contaminated with infected bodily fluids.


3 Answers 3


Plausibility notwithstanding
It's not surprising that this confuses you: it involves both an unusual construction, an over-casual ellipsis, and at least one misuse.

  • Notwithstanding= “despite” acts here as a postpositive preposition—that is, as a preposition which stands after its complement. Its object is plausibility = “believability”. The preposition phrase may be paraphrased

    Despite believability

  • X notwithstanding often occurs at the beginning of a sentence to designate some factor which has been overlooked or bypassed or overcome in the action of the main clause, something which you might expect to have prevented the action:

    His grief notwithstanding, Herbert kept going to work after his son's tragic death.

    Ordinarily, however, the noun X is ‘defined’ with a determiner or modifiers to make its semantic and syntactic relationship to the action clearer. In the sentence above, for instance, his marks grief as Herbert's grief, not general community grief. In your example, this definition is omitted, so it is not very clear what plausibility is involved. What the author probably means is:

    Their plausibility notwithstanding, rumours . . . have circulated for decades.

  • But that makes no sense at all—why should believeability prevent rumors from circulating? One of two things has happened here: either the author has mistakenly written plausibility when he meant implausibility, or he has misunderstood notwithstanding to mean something like regardless. Notwithstanding is not a common word, and almost never occurs in speech, so I think the second mistake is more likely; the author probably means:

    Rumors . . . have circulated for decades without anyone stopping to consider whether they were plausible.

Otherwise here is an adverb meaning “in other respects”; it modifies the adjectival phrase low-risk

otherwise low-risk activities = activities which in other respects carry little risk (but happen to incur severe risk with respect to infection)

Other prepositions which may be postposed are apart and aside; ago is always postposed.

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    I never thought I'd find myself accusing you of being "pedantic"! It's interesting to note that OED's most recent citation is (The Observer, 20 Sept. 10/1/1987, The anxieties of Nato notwithstanding, it is difficult to see how the West can fail to benefit) clearly uses the qualifier the same as OP's example. That's to say even ignoring issues relating to Nato's anxieties, it's difficult. You seem to be stuck on the idea that notwithstanding should only be used in contexts where it effectively means despite, but I don't think that's how most people see it. May 16, 2015 at 13:22
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    @FumbleFingers 1) I think you've miscounted the hedges in your citation: the author says "Despite NATO's anxieties, the West will benefit." 2) That notwithstanding, your paraphrase with even incorporates precisely the "concessive" sense that is missing from OP's example. May 16, 2015 at 13:36
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    +1 Just as a side note: Ago is postponed by tradition only. It doesn't have to be.
    – user6951
    May 16, 2015 at 14:04
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    @pazzo W e l l . . . Exactly the same might be said of every "rule" of English morphology and syntax and pragmatics :) May 16, 2015 at 14:16
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    @pazzo But if we break tradition like in the example in your profile (**Ago December it snowed forty four inches in Buffalo), we end up with a sentence that is very ungrammatical with no obvious meaning...
    – user230
    May 16, 2015 at 16:03

The construction X notwithstanding (and the somewhat less common sequence notwithstanding X) is a "qualifier" that modifies the immediately preceding or following statement/assertion within the current utterance or sentence.

Essentially it means in the context of the associated statement, issues relating to X should be ignored. So in OP's example it means the writer does not wish to explicitly express an opinion as to how plausible the rumours are (though the reader may quite reasonably infer that the writer thinks they're not plausible, otherwise why would he mention the issue at all?).

Adjectival/adverbial otherwise (which in this context means in [all] other respects) modifies low-risk activities. That's to say, activities which are/would be considered low-risk (if it weren't for the fact that they're associated with the transmission of AIDS).

  • +1 But I think it's a misuse of notwithstanding. May 16, 2015 at 13:11
  • @FumbleFingers: I think you are too forgiving, too willing to find clarity in the muddle. And I'd say to the original author: How are the benign, low-risk aspects of those activities relevant to anything? It's like saying "Pointing a gun and pulling the trigger (which is otherwise low-risk) can be dangerous when the gun is pointed at a person." Unless the author means by otherwise "when engaged in by persons neither of whom is HIV-infected", in which case he is leaving something important out of the sentence. May 16, 2015 at 13:55
  • @TRomano: Perhaps you're right. I can't deny that taken literally, X notwithstanding, [statement S] means despite X (i.e. - X does not stand as an obstacle to the validity of S). So X should really be something which would ordinarily be assumed to undermine S. Would you like OP's example any better if it had been Implausibility notwithstanding,...? May 16, 2015 at 16:43
  • ... As to the otherwise issue, I think you're on sticky ground with your counter-example, since pointing a gun and pulling the trigger would ordinarily be assumed to be dangerous. But you wouldn't usually think of gassing up the car, using ketchup, or eating pizza as anything other than low-risk things to do (the risk of anything going wrong is relatively low, and were it not for those [implausible] rumours, you certainly wouldn't think doing them would infect you with AIDS). May 16, 2015 at 16:50
  • @FumbleFingers: I do agree with you on the gun thing, sort of, though its analogues in the original sentence are "deliberately tainted", "booby trapped", and "adulterated". Eating ketchup at a restaurant, otherwise low-risk, can seem high-risk if one fears the bottle has been adulterated. The word "otherwise" just doesn't make sense to me there. normally, usually, typically, would make better sense. I think the author is using otherwise as a synonym for "normally". May 17, 2015 at 10:12

It's not the clearest sentence, and "otherwise" is not used properly.

Plausibility notwithstanding = no matter how implausible it may seem

otherwise low-risk activities = activities that would typically be considered low-risk

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    I can't see any reason to say it's not the clearest sentence. I don't deny some learners may find the construction more challenging than, say, The cat sat on the mat, but to native speakers it's perfectly ordinary English. And as to "otherwise" is not used properly, I think that's just plain wrong - it's a standard construction. May 16, 2015 at 12:55
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    I agree with FF that otherwise is fine here; but I think notwithstanding is misused. May 16, 2015 at 13:12
  • Shouldn't it be, Their implausibility notwithstanding, rumors... rather than what we have, which is a vague nod in the general direction of "issues of plausibility"? May 16, 2015 at 13:25
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    That plausbility is a typo for implausibility is one possibility -- plausibility? :) . . . I incline toward the 'misuse' theory only because I see exactly this misunderstanding of notwithstanding as "regardless of" very often in my editorial work. May 16, 2015 at 13:42
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    I didn't mean to say it was a typo, but that the author has his language inside-out. The author probably meant to say, "Plausibility aside, rumors...". I agree with you on the misuse. I'm just saying that that if we keep "notwithstanding", we'd have to change "plausibility" to implausibility. May 16, 2015 at 13:51

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