Thursday, August 28, 2008
A site I often visit for its entertaining podcasts on grammar (of all things!) is Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Grammar (Grammar Girl is the alter ego of Mignon Fogarty, and she also has a book). Recently, she examined the phrase so often used (and misused) in law school classrooms, "beg the question":
You use the phrase begs the question when people are hoping you won't notice that their reasons for coming to a conclusion aren't valid. They've made an argument based on a lame assumption. The question is What's your support for that premise? . . . Sadly, begs the question is used wrong a lot. . . . Many people mistakenly believe it's OK to use the phrase to introduce a clever or obvious question. . . . There are plenty of phrases writers can use when they mean "makes me wonder" or "raises the question." There's no hole in the English language that needs to be filled, so there's no reason to use begs the question improperly.
The quick and dirty tip is to remember that when something begs the question, it begs the question: what is your support for that premise?