Begging

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Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "At least we can all agree on the enormity of this usage."

See "Begging the question: We have answers", 4/29/2010.



21 Comments

  1. quodlibet said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

    It's literally ironic, but I could care less.

  2. DWalker07 said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

    "Literally ironic". That's hugely great!

  3. Richard said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

    This comic gave me the most satisfying cringe of my entire life. "Begging the question" is the only phrase that I feel peevy about, and it's nice to have that peeve put in its place.

  4. Mark P said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 2:37 pm

    "Beg the question" used to be the one thing I peeved about because I thought it was so useful. I still do pointless things, but not that one.

  5. Margaret Wilson said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 3:13 pm

    I kind of feel peeved about "beg the question"? But I also feel like the original usage needs to die, because it was such a terrible choice of phrasing in the first place.

    Really, what bugs me most is when characters in movies or TV who would know better, don't.

  6. Viseguy said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 6:48 pm

    I literally LOLed. (Or should that be LedOL?)

  7. Andrew Usher said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 8:43 pm

    I have to point out that 'begging the question' was not 'a terrible choice of phrasing'. It seems to have entered usage naturally, and the meanings of 'beg' and 'question' used in it are still current. Further, it's the most concise way available to say it.

    People thinking it doesn't make sense are presumably taking 'question' to be the direct object of 'beg' rather than the indirect object – but in that case, the new meaning wouldn't make sense either.

    As I have always understood, 'nauseous' can mean either 'nauseated' or 'nauseating', and context always disambiguates, I think, in actual usage. Also on the topic I'd like to mention that I pronounce 'nausea' and all these derivatives with /ʒ/ which seems perfectly natural but is not recorded in any dictionary. I bet this is another case where dictionaries are blind to usage.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  8. tangent said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 10:19 pm

    My hobby: using "petitio principii" to mean "a nice knock-down argument for you".

  9. weaver said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 10:26 pm

    Not sure I agree with that. "Beg the question" is a poor English translation of a reasonable Latin translation of the original Greek phrase. What peeves me about people insisting it be used "correctly" (i.e. insisting on sticking with the original mistranslation) is not only that they expect to be allowed to say "beg the question" when they mean "assume the conclusion" but also insist that you're not allowed to say "beg the question" when you actually mean "beg the question". But, to boldly coin a phrase, I will not tow the line.

  10. Andrew Usher said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 11:12 pm

    It is not a mistranslation and the assertion that it is is grossly ignorant: the history of the phrase is documented and matches what I already said. If you say that it is a bad translation, then tell how you would render 'petitio principii' in the same number of (content) words.

    [(myl) With respect, this is wrong. As discussed at length in "Begging the question: We have answers", 4/29/2010, the history of the term "petitio principii" indicates that from the beginning it was at best an opaque translation of Aristotle's plain-language τὸ ἐν ἀρχῇ αἰτεῖσθαι and τὸ ἐν ἀρχῇ λαμβάνειν, which literally mean "asking the original point" and "assuming the original point." And translating "petitio principii" as "begging the question" uses beg to mean something like "ask" in the sense of "postulate", a sense that is not otherwise attested even in the elite usage of the 17th century, and is entirely misleading today. You can accept "beg the question" as a non-compositional idiom, if you like, but please don't make unfounded assertions about its validity as a translation of Aristotle on false reasoning.]

    You say peevers don't want you to use it when you actually mean 'beg the question'. But when do you do that! What are you begging (demanding) of 'the question', or alternatively, whom are you begging 'the question' from? Do you even think about what 'beg' means? Of course not, you are just using it as a whole phrase (an idiom) you've picked up from others that use it in the same way.

    If you admitted it was just an idiom, I might accept it as just a normal language change. But attempting to defend it logically is just nonsense, and as long as you do, I will object.

  11. Bloix said,

    August 30, 2018 @ 11:56 pm

    Here's a peeve: saying "red line" when what you mean is "a line in the sand."

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    August 31, 2018 @ 4:42 am

    Of well, if we're going to digress into pet peeves — people who would prefer dictionaries to be descriptive rather than prescriptive ☺

  13. George said,

    August 31, 2018 @ 8:33 am

    Please let's not get into a fight about 'beg the question' – it's one of the few topics I've ever seen discussed on this site where people can actually get quite unpleasant with each other.

  14. Vulcan WIth a Mullet said,

    August 31, 2018 @ 8:54 am

    Begging the question is the objection that proves the rule

  15. David L said,

    August 31, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    Is the cartoon meant to imply that those who insist that a person can only be nauseated, not nauseous, are fighting a losing battle against changing usage? Because that's just wrong. Nauseous meaning 'about to upchuck' is well established. The 'rule' that it can't mean that is, to the best of my knowledge, an American invention. I'd certainly never come across it until I moved to the US.

  16. Toma said,

    August 31, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

    Funny that the focus here ended up being on "beg the question." I was focusing on "fight a losing battle against changing usage" as the main point.

  17. philip said,

    August 31, 2018 @ 6:15 pm

    Yes, Toma. And what about the tautology in 'losing battle': all battles against changing usage are doomed to fail; so …

    Andrew's challenge: assuming the conclusion; any good to you as an alternative?

  18. chris said,

    August 31, 2018 @ 8:30 pm

    And what about the tautology in 'losing battle': all battles against changing usage are doomed to fail
    Are they? Not all new usages become established. Although if they don't, I would *generally* be skeptical that it was due to any campaign against them.

    I think it's somewhat of an interesting historico-linguistic question whether anyone ever has actually fought a successful battle against changing usage. But causation would be difficult to prove, even if it was there.

  19. Ellen K. said,

    September 1, 2018 @ 8:56 am

    @Andrew Usher

    In what current variety of English is the meaning of "beg" in the original ("raise the question") meaning of "beg the question" still current? Certainly not in my Midwestern American English.

    Also, "petitio principii" is just as concise as "beg the question", without the problem of sounding like it means something completely different.

    @Weaver

    I don't think "beg the question" has any compositional meaning. It would be "begs for the question" or "suggests the question" if not using an idiom.

  20. quodlibet said,

    September 1, 2018 @ 2:11 pm

    Anyway, it's a moo point.

  21. philip said,

    September 1, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

    *Chris
    I was taking 'changing usage' to end up as 'changed usage'. But I agree with you that linguistic campaigns by usage mavens are doomed to failure, like swimming up a waterfall as we say in Irish. The usage will either change or it will not catch on: campaigning against it is like still getting annoyed at 'quote' being used instead of 'quotation'.

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