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Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Shot a Man in Reno...

To "beg the question" does not mean to raise the question, but refers, rather, to fallaciously circular reasoning or petitio principii. So if you use "beg the question" in a context where you might replace it with "raising the question," that is not technically correct.

To really beg a question you have to smuggle in the conclusion you want to prove into a seemingly innocuous premise.

I shot a man in Reno, just because he used the phrase "beg the question" wrong.


Andrew Shields said...

Mark Liberman wrote a superb post on Language Log about this last year:


I was quite struck by how it turns out to be a translation issue (with an archaic use of "beg"). I also thought his conclusion was memorable:

'My recommendation: Never use the phrase yourself — use "assume the conclusion" or "raise the question", depending on what you mean — and cultivate an attitude of serene detachment in the face of its use by others.'

Jonathan said...

Yes, I read that post too. I'll have to work on that serene detachment bit.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Drives me nuts, too, especially when it happens on NPR, which it does pretty frequently these days. My personal theory is that the phrase's increasing (mis-)use can be traced to composition textbooks which teach logical fallacies; people who were taught the concept in high school or college remember the phrase, but not what it actually means, and use it to mean what they think it means.