Usage quandaries, part 1: Beg the question

Comments

Begs the question

Anonymous

It's posts like these that make me feel as if, at 56, I'm just too old to be a copy editor. I'm disappointed that you did not address the issue of affectation. "Begs the question," unless it's used in its own sphere of logic, is the province of pretentious writers who want to appear as if they've achieved a level of sophistication and learning (or should I say erudition?) that they haven't. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This so-called newer use (why not say incorrect use?) is pompous and smacks of ignorance and superciliousness, when it is, in fact, just silly. I'm with Bill Walsh. I would NEVER let it stand. I would edit "begs" to "raises," or "prompts," or "suggests"--all of them useful, serviceable, unambiguous, and, more importantly, unpretentious.

~Robin

Posted on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 9:49am

I was trained as a

Anonymous

I was trained as a philosopher and therefore had frequent occasion to use "beg the question" in its original, correct sense; you'll have to pry the pencil with which I delete the collquiial usage out of my cold, dead hands.

Posted on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 9:56am

Begs the question

Anonymous

A better definition of "begging the question": using as proof something that itself needs proving. We know, for example, that the Bible is the word of God because it says so in the Bible.

Posted on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 11:44am

To me what it comes down to

Anonymous

To me what it comes down to is: how many readers are going to bristle or startle at NOT coming across this disputed usage? Zero, no matter who they are. Unlike some copyeditor favorites like "masterly" or awkward phrasings to avoid splitting an infinitive, the undisputed ways to say "raises/invites a question" are completely natural and un-noticeable. In a situation where every single change exacted some cost in money or psychic energy, I might leave it. In normal circumstances, I don't think there's any upside to letting it stand. It's not any kind of more colorful or compelling way to say it. Rather, as Robin says, it is kind of cluelessly pretentious.

Linda

Posted on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 1:32pm

To me what it comes down to

Anonymous

To me what it comes down to is: how many readers are going to bristle or startle at NOT coming across this disputed usage? Zero, no matter who they are. Unlike some copyeditor favorites like "masterly" or awkward phrasings to avoid splitting an infinitive, the undisputed ways to say "raises/invites a question" are completely natural and un-noticeable. In a situation where every single change exacted some cost in money or psychic energy, I might leave it. In normal circumstances, I don't think there's any upside to letting it stand. It's not any kind of more colorful or compelling way to say it. Rather, as Robin says, it is kind of cluelessly pretentious.

Linda

Posted on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 1:34pm

Helpful

Anonymous

I like your logic. Sometimes, I think editors are too strict when really, we need to adjust our editing to the style and audience. Some things are judgment calls. I'd probably do as you suggest and change it only when the audience requires it, as I do with instances where "whom" is correct but sounds formal.

Leigh Ann Otte
Freelance Web Writer/Editor

Posted on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 1:51pm

Begs the Question

Anonymous

The comment begs the question of why the original as changed. The original meaning ( which is the oly one which has any real meaning) should be used.

Posted on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 2:44pm

"Beg the question" has become a skunked term

Anonymous

"Beg the question" has become what Bryan Garner would, I believe, call a skunked term. It's so widely misused that no matter whether you allow it to be used incorrectly or are lucky enough to have an author who uses it correctly, many readers will think the use is wrong when it's correct or correct when it's wrong. You are better off avoiding it altogether.

BTW, I love Walsh's clever sentence. I was recently thinking of a related, though admittedly less clever, sentence: Me and him were laying in bed when he asked me to move in with him, and I said yes because we could care less if our parents approved of us cohabitating.

Posted on Sun, 05/13/2012 - 7:58pm

Not a quandary at all

Anonymous

In my opinion, there's no quandary involved in whether to allow "begs the question" in the sense of "raises the question" or "poses the question." It's wrong; end of quandary.

The reason my client hired an editor was to avoid publishing material containing mistakes. It's my job to correct the mistakes I find. If I don't fix "begs the question," I'm not doing my job.

The reason audiences start to think something incorrect is correct is because editors haven't been doing their job, or because material has been published without being edited at all. After you've seen phrases like "fine service at it's best" in print enough times, you start to think the possessive "its" is supposed to have an apostrophe. The fact that it's a common error and often seen in print doesn't make it correct.

Posted on Sun, 05/13/2012 - 8:09pm

begs the question

Anonymous

Although it is impolite to stop an associate in mid-conversation and correct the use of "begs the question," I find myself itching to do so. However, I do teach my students at Alabama State University that what they mean to say is, "it begs for the question," or "it deserves the question." But when I hear a reporter on National Public Radio misuse the phrase, I shoot off an email. I must have sent a dozen emails by now, but they haven't made a dent.
*sigh*
Gita Smith, Montgomery

Posted on Tue, 05/29/2012 - 7:45am

My New Oxford American

Anonymous

My New Oxford American Dictionary (widget) gives 3 definitions:

beg the question

1 (of a fact or action) raise a question or point that has not been dealt with; invite an obvious question.

2 avoid the question; evade the issue.

3 assume the truth of an argument or proposition to be proved, without arguing it.

I think the first definition is WRONG. "Begs the question" should be replace by "raises the question" when that's what is meant.

It seems to me that 2 & 3 are linked: "The Bible is true because it's The Bible" is illogical AND evasive.

Posted on Sat, 07/27/2013 - 10:44am

ooops: "replaced"

Anonymous

ooops: "replaced"

Posted on Sat, 07/27/2013 - 10:45am

"replaced," that is ...

Anonymous

"replaced," that is ...

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