The Right Coast

October 19, 2005
Begging for a Bruising
By Gail Heriot

Yes, I know that Right Coast readers are on the whole a pretty intelligent group and hence unlikely to be guilty of the sin of which I am about to complain. And yes, I know that I shouldn't really be using this blog to complain about other people's word choice. I risk boring everyone. But the problem is driving me mad.

I'll try to be brief: An argument that "begs the question" is a faulty argument that implicitly assumes the thing that was to be proven. A person who is "begging the question" is thus avoiding the question. It is not a good thing. It is a bad thing--a very specific bad thing. Recently, however, I've been hearing the term used to describe a speaker who has caused his listener to want to raise a question. That's wrong. An interesting storyteller does not "beg the question of when he will return."

Lord knows that I make mistakes too. So far, however, I've tried to avoid sucking the life out of a perfectly serviceable word or phrase without replacing it with something equally serviceable. I would appreciate it therefore if you would punch the daylights out of the next person who uses the term incorrectly. It's for the good of clarity in the English language. And he's begging for it anyway.