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Beg the question (usage)

Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which a conclusion is based on an assumption that is as much in need of proof as the premise. Because that phrase is out there, and because many people are unfamiliar with the fallacy, beg the question is widely used to mean raise the question. This use of beg the question is a common peeve among people who care about English usage, but the phenomenon is so widespread that we should probably just accept that begging the question has multiple meanings.

And for those of us who care about fallacies, it might be a good idea to simply use a different term for begging the question. The Latin term petitio principii (which means assuming the initial point) is a traditional alternative to begging to question, but an English alternative would be better. Let us know if you have any suggestions.

Examples


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When these writers use the phrase beg the question, it has nothing to do with the fallacy:

As more consumers turn to Internet listings, such as Zillow, and Web services, such as Redfin, it begs the question: What about the human aspect? [Washington Post]

I personally hated “Black Swan” with a passion, but Portman’s incredible acting in that movie might beg the question: what is a 2011 Golden Globes award-winner doing in a movie like this? [Campus Times]

But such a compromise begs the question of whether or not Senate Republicans can be trusted to keep their word. [Care2]

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Comments

  1. reardensteel says:

    This one drives me nuts.

    Almost everyone uses this incorrectly, along with “Catch 22” and “gold standard”.

    I think people think it sounds erudite or fancy to use “begs” instead of “raises”.

  2. What amazes me is that such incorrect usages seem to enjoy a sudden vogue. They seem to be used far, far more frequently than the the correct usage was. I mean, how often did you hear “beg the question” before the current misuse started a few years ago? Similarly: “STEP foot”.

  3. reardensteel says:

    Another misused phrase that really bugs me is have your cake and eat it too.
    People use this to mean “have it all” or to get everything you want.
    Really, it means simply to have two exclusive things, like staying up late and getting enough sleep.
    You can’t have it both ways.

    It would probably help a lot if the expression were: you can’t eat your cake and still have it.
    Then I think people would use it correctly.

  4. nick fowler says:

    I`m afraid that the common error of usage, is going to end up supplanting the original meaning
    of B.T.Q- to the detriment of the English language. I am afraid This “dumbing down” of English is a problem, that is just going to get increase

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