It begs the question, why are you such an annoying pedant?

Ha! I fooled you. That’s not begging the question at all. No, in fact begging the question, is a form of logical fallacy. In this case begging the question would be something like: Jodi is an annoying pedant because she’s so irritating.

And you’re all, what? That’s totally true.
this is NOT begging the question
From the comic book series “Fables” another improper use

However true it might be, it’s still logically unsound. I have provided no actual support for the annoying pedant portion of my statement. Because she’s so irritating assumes that the annoying pedant part is true, without any proof, therefore begging the question!

But I am an annoying pedant because improper use of begs the question drives me right up the wall. In fact, it drives me so batty that it has overtaken the overuse of douche to claim the #1 spot of weird linguistic things that annoy me.

The worst part? People are using it wrong all the time, everywhere. Brian Williams used it incorrectly on election night, and yesterday the adorable actor who plays Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory” used it incorrectly on Ellen (and essentially broke my heart in the process).

I don’t know if begs the question has just gotten more popular or if I have some sort of superpower bat-radar hearing that seems to catch its use no matter where it occurs. It’s one of those things that once you start noticing, you can’t stop it. It’s like when you see dead people and all of a sudden you’re saying, “I see dead people. They’re everywhere.”

Why does this drive me so crazy? There are two reasons.

First, people have no idea it actually means something that is not “raises the question.” They think they’re being clever or offering up some witty turn of phrase. It’s not that the language has evolved and the phrase has moved past its original meaning, it’s that people are dumb.

Second, I learned what begging the question was the hard way. You have to harken back to the long ago 90s in a cold, dank lecture hall on the UWEC campus. There, a young nerd, sat in the upper left corner in Logic 101 (or one-oh something, I can’t remember what) and tried with every brain cell she had to learn logic.

I’m not exactly sure what possessed me to take Logic. It was, after all, my very first semester in college, so I’m sure my options were limited. I liked the idea of taking a philosophy class and having no idea what philosophical logic was all about I signed right up.

Some part of me probably thought I’d learn to be logical, to have more common sense. In all of my eighteen years up to that point i had often been shamed for my lack of common sense.

Sure I once asked my mom after pondering a sign at the laundromat why she didn’t use the machines that offered to wash, fluff-dry, and fold your clothes for only 65 cents a pound. Sure, I was seventeen at the time, but come on, I’d seen the Jetsons. And I asked my dad if olives were invented in a lab using chemicals, but that’s probably not far from the truth.

But to my family it meant I lacked common sense.

Somewhere in my common nonsense head I decided Logic would give me sense. It did not give me any common sense. However it did teach me a lot about arguments; if/then/therefore statements; Venn diagrams, how my philosophy professor used logic to argue his way out of a parking ticket (which had something to do with the ridiculousness of having motorcycle only parking in Wisconsin in February); and what the hell it means to beg the question.

So I beg you (and not the question), just stop using it. You can still ask questions, raise questions, even bring up some questions, just don’t beg them. Okay?

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4 Comments

  1. Kurtis 09.Nov.10 at 2:39 pm

    Hm. For the page of explanation you link to, I think they do a poor job of explaining the phrase’s meaning. It says that people misunderstand “question.” What people really misunderstand is “beg,” which in this case means “avoid,” not “entreat.” The term “question,” means pretty much what you think it does. It might be better to say “it begs the REAL question,” to make things clearer. Or better yet, avoid the phrase entirely. Say “it sidesteps the real question.” Say “You’re presuming we all agree on _____ and we don’t.” Or say “That’s a circular argument.”

    Or as Ricky Gervais would put it: “YOU’RE TALKING SHIT!”

    I would also say that it’s a rhetorical fallacy, not a logical one. That might be too fine a distinction, but I think of logical fallacies of being formal ones, and rhetorical as informal. Most fallacies are rhetorical. They lack the formal structure to even be a logical fallacy.

    Reply
  2. Jodi 09.Nov.10 at 2:43 pm

    I like that. . . rhetorical fallacy lacking the structure to even be a logical fallacy. I bet you’d have gotten better than a B- in Logic.

    Reply
  3. M-----l 09.Nov.10 at 4:02 pm

    I stopped using the word douche when you told me to, but I’m going to continue begging questions because the site you linked to is dumb.

    Reply
  4. clare 16.Nov.10 at 4:14 pm

    haha! when i read the title of that i thought “god, i HATE it when people use that phrase totally wrongly”. 🙂 then i read your post.

    Reply

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