Begging You to Beg the Question Properly

The phrase “begging the question” is used with great frequency of late. The unfortunate thing is that, for the most part, it’s being used incorrectly.

Most of the time when we see “This begs the question,” what the author really means is: “This raises the question.” We wish authors would use the latter phrase, which works perfectly well, and leave “begs the question” its original and more refined meaning.
To beg the question means to ask or state something when the answer to the question, or the truth of the statement, is already assumed in the question/statement itself. Here’s an example:

Mermaids live in the sea, because the ocean is their home.

The conclusion assumes the truth of the initial statement, but no proof has been offered for either one aside from the presence of the other. It’s a logic loop, and it’s not considered a valid argument.

Of course, insisting on this more formal version of the phrase “begging the question” is a fight against the liquid and amorphous nature of language usage–something we’ve suggested should be avoided. However, we don’t believe in cavalierly jettisoning all standards.

We may as well admit here and now that we lean toward the prescriptivist end of the prescriptivist–descriptivist spectrum. But that’s a topic for another post. We’ll beg the question by saying: Prescriptivist grammarians are the best because they’re so conscientious and are trying to create order in the universe!

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