Friday, March 10, 2017

Word Wrestle #7: Stop Begging, Already!

OK, you may be wondering what "begging" has to do with a good old-fashioned Wrestle.
You won't wonder long, though, if you find it as irritating as I do to hear the phrase "begs the question" used the WRONG way.
ALL THE TIME.
By people who ought to know better.

Think about it. You can't go for more than a few days--or hours, depending on how much writing you read and commenting you listen to--without hearing some journalist, when presenting a query, say, "Of course, this begs the question..."
And then they proceed to ASK said question.

If this doesn't set your teeth on edge, you're either unfamiliar with one of the basic definitions of rhetoric and logic...or you think that "begging the question" is the same as "presenting" or "bringing up" a question.

Guess what?
IT'S NOT.
Not only is it not the same thing...it doesn't even come close to MEANING the same thing.

Basic logic lesson time.
"Begging the question," according to wiser minds among us, is defined as:
  
Any form of argument where the conclusion is assumed in one of the premises.  Many people use the phrase “begging the question” incorrectly when they use it to mean, “prompts one to ask the question."  That is NOT the correct usage. Begging the question is a form of circular reasoning.
(H/T to Logically Fallacious for this concise definition. Without swear words or anything. Better than I could do.)

Note that this "begging the question" aspect is a) considered an errant form of argument, and b) weak thinking on display. What it attempts to do is use a conclusion in order to argue its own premise. In other words, in shorthand, it's:
Claim X assumes X is true.
Therefore, claim X is true.

The example on Logically Fallacious is, "Paranormal activity is real because I have experienced what could only be called paranormal activity."

In order to say that anything "could only be called paranormal activity," one first has to acknowledge that paranormal activity is, in fact, a real thing. But that doesn't PROVE that it is...because in order to label your experience as such, you have to already accept as true that the thing exists and can be identified as such.

Are your eyes crossing yet?

Suffice to say that "begging the question" is a phenomenon that leaves a question, in fact, still unanswered--not something that presents or prompts a question.

So the next time you hear someone say, "This begs the question, 'How were you able to see that purple cow, anyway?'"....
Well, you probably know the response to that.
Most of us have always said we'd rather SEE than BE one.

Old rhymes aside, if you're brave enough, you'll also point out that the purple cow question isn't begging anything. Nor does the cow do any begging. 
And then, if your audience is truly paying attention...you can BEG them to stop misusing this phrase. 
And tell them why they're misusing it.

You will strike a needed blow for logic and clear expression.
And the purple cow will thank you.

Milk it!
Janny

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