Begging the Question
Normally, as you will know from earlier blogs, I don't get very excited about language changes that upset self-proclaimed "language purists" but there are certain things that get me worked up. One is the loss of the word "irony" and its adjectival form "ironic" due to the fact that half-educated people use this word in cases of coincidences. A baseball announcer might say of someone who made an error in the previous half inning and then, as the first batter up in the next half inning, hits a home run, "Isn't it ironic that he hit his last home run immediately after committing an error." There is nothing ironic about this. It is just an interesting coincidence.
I sympathize a bit with persons who do this since the concept of irony is not an easy one, as checking out the Webster on line dictionary entry will attest. Nevertheless, the people who don't understand the idea could just quit using the word. How about saying "major coincidence" or "very interesting coincidence" and leave "irony" and "ironic" in the mouths of those who know how to use it. The problem, of course, as always, the people who don't understand the concept, don't know that they don't understand it. But they do know that it is an intellectual's word and they want to seem to be smart. Now that's ironic.
Another thing that chafes my butt, is the systematic misuse of the term, "Begging the Question." The way it is used now is equivalent to "raises the question." One Tina Blue cites a nice example from U. S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who is married to Valerie Plame, who said in an interview
"It really comes down to the administration misrepresenting the facts on [the alleged Niger-Iraq nuclear materials exchange] that was a fundamental justification for going to war. It begs the question, what else are they lying about?"As in this case, the "question" that is allegedly begged will normally be some question that intrigues.
In fact, begging the question means simply 'assuming what is to be proved'. IAnother web site (ain't the web grand?), called The Nizkor Project, provides the following nice and easy example of begging the question:
Bill: "God must exist."In many cases, begging the question occurs more subtly.
Jill: "How do you know."
Bill: "Because the Bible says so."
Jill: "Why should I believe the Bible?"
Bill: "Because the Bible was written by God."
We all agree that we ought not take a person's life except in self defence.This argument has a suppressed premise without which the argument doesn't work and this is something like
Abortion does not occur out of self defence.
Therefore, abortion is wrong.
An embryo/foetus is a person.The problem is that the abortion controversy is about whether or not the foetus is a person. I seem to be indebted to Moonlight Sonata for this example.
Easy cases of begging the question like the existence of God case cited above are easily detected and so are easily dismissed. The harder cases are those what have suppressed premises that when brought into the light show that the argument that begs the question. These are the cases that drive me crazy. Unfortunately, thanks to the fact that "begging the question" has lost its original meaning to most people, charging someone with begging the question has lost its force, just as saying that something is ironic means squat any more.
The language changes that matter are those that result in the loss of a distinction -- irony vs interesting coincidence -- or loss of a way of saying something, as in "begging the question." A change in grammar usually has no consequences of interest. Some might say that the loss of subjunctive verb forms, as illustrated by
"If you were to do that, I would give you $1,000."have no real consequences since those who have lost this form for expressing subjunctive utterances have not lost the ability to express subjunctive (counterfactual) notions Such a person might say,
"If you would do that, I would give you $1,000."This latter might grate on some persons nerves, but there is no real loss since the losses that matter are semantic losses, not grammatical losses.