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Recently, I came across an interesting case of じゃない usage, which I haven't seen prior.

さっきの連中の言葉じゃないけど、卒業したくねーわー、オレ。

In the example above, the sentence itself makes sense only in case of じゃない having an affirmative connotation. Through some searching, I also came across an article, that had a direct quote from Shakespeare using the same construction as in the example above

シェイクスピアの言葉じゃないけど、善悪って存在するものではなく、人間が作り出しているだけ。nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.ってね。

Although I get that in this case じゃない isn't here for the purpose of negation, I don't quite understand what exactly is the grammar behind it. The only plausible explanation I can come up with, is something like かと思う being omitted after じゃない, like in

さっきの連中の言葉じゃないかと思うけど、卒業したくねーわー、オレ。

Am I thinking in the right direction, or is this じゃない usage something completely different?

Edit: or is it used to show that the speaker wants to quote someone, while knowing that the quote he makes isn't word-for-word?

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Grammatically speaking, this じゃない is a negation. This Xじゃないけど is a kind of set phrase that typically implies "I don't mean to directly quote from X, but I feel the same thing as what X said", "What I'm saying happens to be similar to what X said, but I want to say this as my own words", "You may be remined of what X said, but this is what I am thinking now", etc.

Sometimes, Xじゃないけど is used intentionally while evidently quoting someone's famous statement or mimicking someone's signature gag. In such cases, it may be like saying "no pun intended" when a pun is intended, so you shouldn't take it literally. Your second sentence about Shakespeare may be an example of this (I don't know whether Shakespeare really said this, though).

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  • I see, thank you for the detailed explanation! Do you, perhaps, know whether this is a set phrase that came to be from day-to-day conversations? Or is it a proper official grammar, meaning of which could be found in dictionaries etc? I've seen じゃない being used for comparison through negation, but the meaning could be inferred quite easily. However, in this case it seems to carry much more information, despite how short じゃないけど itself is.
    – Alex
    Mar 17 at 15:16
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    @Alex I don't think this is seriously explained in dictionaries or grammar books, but some people use this as a "hedge". I found this: ameblo.jp/punyopunyo-ameba/entry-12269140466.html / detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q11142029341
    – naruto
    Mar 17 at 23:27
  • I stumbled upon this by chance, but I'm surprised there isn't a proper entry about this. I always wondered if it carried a particular nuance from the times I've seen it, but I never found anything explicitly talking about it. So thank you for this question and answer.
    – user26484
    Apr 24 at 9:10

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