Monday, August 27, 2012

Time to Retire "Begs the Question"

I'm not the first to notice that the phrase begs the question is almost always misused. A fine example can be seen in this Pioneer Press headline from the past few days:

As in this case, it's mostly used to mean raises the question, when it's actually

a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place. (From, believe it or not.)
I think that true meaning is somewhat useless, personally. How often does anyone need to express that idea?

But the substituted meaning of raises is also useless. Why not just use raise or ask? What do you get from begging?

I confess I always thought it meant something closer to leaves the question unasked, which to me is a useful construction. The questions we don't ask need to be pointed out more often.

But since I'm not allowed to assign a new meaning to the phrase, I guess I vote for retiring it. No one ever knows what it means anyway, so it's lost its function as communication.

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