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I saw a few bits here and elsewhere on it, but I have yet to find something that explains its usage, in detail(e.g. in positive and negative contexts and in different tenses). Anyone know?

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It only means "either way", "anyhow", "anyway", etc with a fatalist nuance, hence it can sound negative for some.

You can find it as other forms like どっちにしろ or どっちにせよ.

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While I'm sure the underlying grammar makes the analogy a rather liberal one, I have always tended to feel that these were similar to patters in English that use "be". That is, an old form of the subjunctive:

Aであれ、Bであれ、なんでもいい。
Be it A, or be it B, it's fine regardless.

どっちにせよ
Whichever it be.

なんせ
Whatever the case be.

The pattern can always (well, usually) be reworded using も to mean essentially the same thing.

Aでも、Bでも、なんでもいい。
どっちにしても
なんせ* (no strict conversion; maybe 何が何でも)

  • Who downvoted this without comment? – Aeon Akechi May 5 '16 at 9:55
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    「なんせ」 can be reworded as なにせ、なにしろ、なんにせよ、なんにしても, or ともかく. (It doesn't mean 何が何でも.) どうせ and なんせ are not interchangeable. どうせ = 所詮. どうせ has a nuance of 諦め、自嘲、蔑視 – Chocolate May 5 '16 at 15:03
  • I know it doesn't mean 何が何でも; I was trying (too hard) to stretch the "replaceable with も in theory" point. Saying なにせ and なにしろ etc are possible replacements doesn't really help much -- they are all just different forms of the 命令形. ともかく is potentially helpful though, I would think. – Brandon May 5 '16 at 17:40
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    なにしろ etc are ... they are all just different forms of the 命令形 >> 「なんにしても」は 「different form of the 命令形」じゃないです。 「しても」だから命令形じゃないです。 「なんせ」の "replaceable with も in theory" には、「何が何でも」より「何にしても」のほうが使えると思いますが。 – Chocolate May 6 '16 at 15:15
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今行ってもどうせ遅いので、行かないことにします。
Since it is late to go now, I decided not go anyway.

It is similar to "anyway". But, you should use "douse" in negative context only.

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