Thursday, February 24, 2011

Please, I Beg!

It's not every day that one gets to write a grammar post, but today's Daily simply leaves no choice. Thursday's paper features the article: "Rise of Google Art Project begs the question: Can an online work replace the real thing?" And that makes me cringe.

Quick, before reading on...can you spot the error?

You see, the editors simply didn't realize what "begs the question" means. It does not, as it is commonly misused,  mean, "raise the question." It means that something is a bad argument, for specific logical reasons.

In other words, if I said, "It is not cold because it is warm," there is a problem: I am using "it is warm" to explain why it is "not cold," any yet those are essentially the same thing. I'm not really proving anything at all. So you could reply, "But that begs the question!" Excellent. That is what it means.

It does not have anything to do with raising a question, calling a question to mind, posing a question, highlighting a question, inspiring a question, or otherwise doing anything related to a question. A question is not to follow the phrase. Ever.

Don't take my word for it. A simple Google search on the expression returns the Wikipedia article, which explains its use in logic, and the more important Get it Right website, dedicated to correcting people who mess up that particular idiom. They even sell shirts. And Grammar Girl, a site dedicated to correcting grammar in general, also has a nice article on the topic. So it's not just me, and it's not just my high school English teacher from senior year, Mr. Moxey.

The moral of the story? I count three. (1) Even college newspapers make mistakes. (2) You might, once in a while, learn useful things in high school English classes. (3) Don't look stupid; use begs the question correctly.

Of course, students at a New England liberal arts college probably should notice this error. But this raises the question: How many of them will also write letters to the editor?


  1. Are you insulting this article's author? Impressive.

    It's not cold because it's warm...Hm. Maybe, it's not cold. Simply because it's not cold. I wouldn't call it warm though.

  2. I think the word "an" in the heading should be removed and grammatically is would read better! What do you think?? or am I way off base! Just another way of looking at the whole picture


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