Monday, May 02, 2005

"Beg" Pardon?

I'd say four out of five times I hear or read "begs the question," it's used improperly (according to me, anyway). "Begging the question" means assuming what you are trying to prove, or, in some cases, assuming something that needs to be proved as part of a bigger proof.

It's a reasonably common logical fallacy. An example would be "my holy scriptures are inerrant because that is written in the scriptures."

However, now the phrase usually means "raises the question" or "leads to the question"--"the Republicans want to destroy the filibuster which begs the question what will they do when they're back in the minority."

I'm a big fan of the original meaning. It's quite useful, even if the phrase is confusing to modern ears. But I fear I'm on the losing side. Common usage is already against me. Soon, I bet, not only will the new meaning be considered correct, but the old meaning will all but disappear.


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