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Master of Style

Begging the question: it does not mean what you think it means

To beg the question:

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.

A simple example would be "I think he is unattractive because he is ugly." The adjective "ugly" does not explain why the subject is "unattractive" -- they virtually amount to the same subjective meaning, and the proof is merely a restatement of the premise. The sentence has begged the question.

What it doesn't mean:

To beg the question does not mean "to raise the question." (e.g. "It begs the question, why is he so dumb?") This is a common error of usage made by those who mistake the word "question" in the phrase to refer to a literal question. Sadly, the error has grown more and more common with time, such that even journalists, advertisers, and major mass media entities have fallen prey to "BTQ Abuse."

While descriptivists and other such laissez-faire linguists are content to allow the misconception to fall into the vernacular, it cannot be denied that logic and philosophy stand to lose an important conceptual label should the meaning of BTQ become diluted to the point that we must constantly distinguish between the traditional usage and the erroneous "modern" usage. This is why we fight.

When i saw even generally good writer David Frum* (he was George W. Bush's speechwriter!) getting it wrong, i knew it was time to speak out.

*Turns out even though it's Frum's blog, it was a blog elf who posted this one.

By fnord12 | March 2, 2012, 4:57 PM | Master of Style | Comments (0)| Link

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