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I realize that it's a common phrase, it couldn't be wrong, and I'm not saying it is. Yet I just can't help but wonder, is there a word left out? Could this phrase be re-written some other way?

Like saying:

As horrible as it sounds, their true intention was to steal from us!

Does it mean: It is as horrible as it sounds, their true intention...

Or: I'm saying this regardless of how horrible it may sound...

I googled it and looked up some dictionaries but couldn't find something that would help. Thank you in advance!

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The meaning of the idiom can be used to say regardless of how horrible it may sound it's true, and it can also be used to say it wasn't so bad

P1: Their true intention was to steal from us!
P2: Really?! That's just horrible!
P1: Well, as horrible as it sounds, it was.

As horrible as it sounds, the 10 injections I had to get were painless.

It is usually used to speak about something bad, however, it can also be said sarcastically in a joking way for unbelievable good news

P1: As horrible as it sounds, I won a week at a beach resort!
P2: Oh no, that's awful, poor you! (sarcastic snicker)

The construction is as something as it sounds

good
bad
wonderful
desperate
stupid
boring

etc.

A similar idiom is: as something as it gets

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