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Begging the Question: BTQ Abuse

Begging the Question - RF CafeWe all have pet peeves, which begs the question, "What is yours?" One of my pet peeves is the nearly universal misuse of the phrase "begs the question." As presented in the first sentence, the usage is utterly incorrect. To "beg the question" does not mean a question is begging to be asked. Rather, it describes the occasion of a self-proving statement, a logical fallacy or circular reasoning. Grammarians refer to the transgression as "BTQ Abuse." Supposedly, the original derivation is from the Latin term "petitio principii," meaning to petition the principle, or to challenge the assertion of a statement. For example, if I say, "ABC Corporation's receivers are superior to XYZ Corporation's inferior receivers," I have begged the question, "Why are ABC Corporation's receivers superior to XYZ Corporation's receivers?," or, conversely, "Why are XYZ Corporation's receivers inferior to ABC Corporation's receivers?" What brings this issue to mind is that I just read an article in Discover magazine where an accomplished astrophysicist erroneously used the term. Eventually, constant misuse of a word or phrase causes it to be given a place in modern lexicons akin to how panhandlers are eventually permitted to populate highway off-ramps and intersections because it's easier to allow them than to eradicate them. Are you a BTQ Abuser?

For the record, another pet peeve of mine is the fallacious statement, "I could care less." That is another logical fallacy because what is really meant is, "I couldn't care less." If you "could care less," then that means you still care at least a little about the subject when what you really mean is you care as little you possibly can about the subject already - it is not possible for you to care less than you already do. A Ph.D.-degreed scientist I listen to regularly on the radio makes the mistake frequently during arguements.

I will be glad to post your grammatical pet peeves here if you send them to me - even if (especially if) they are mistakes I commit (other than an admitted continual rash of typos).

Posted  January 14, 2014

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