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I just naturally assumed Gmail only filed things into Sent when it... sent them. I know that it does "pay attention" to what it's sending: if you're accessing Gmail through IMAP/SMTP you don't need to have your client store sent messages on the server; Gmail will populate them there for you when you send through their SMTP server.

My best guess would be that it is caused by the fact that GMail doesn't really have folders per se. It emulates them when it's syncing with your client through IMAP and the web interface shows you folder icons, but these are really labels. In the case of the "sent" label I'd guess it's just a well-optimized search over "From:" headers of all the mails stored in "All Mail". If this is the case, then it appears that this search isn't as accurate as one would wish it was.

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