Frederick Fuller is dismayed by the wide-spread misuse of the expression “to beg the question.”
Beg the question followed by a question, as if a bit of information demanded a question, as in “The high price of eggs begs the question: are we paying chickens too much to lay eggs?”Beg the question is a logical fallacy. So what’s a writer to do?
The good news is that this misuse of “beg” to mean “raise” is the subject of a great many online discussions explaining what to beg the question “really” means.
The bad news is that a great many writers don’t seem to be aware that they are using it incorrectly and it has become very widespread. Here are some examples:
Lil’ Kim had an X-rated public image until she appeared on DWTS. Which begs the question: Is DWTS the new rehab?
Toyota recalls 1.3M Yaris models, which begs the question: What’s the plural of Yaris?
TV-LINKS Is Back! which begs the question…who is going back!
What we are saying here is that every 2 days a juvenile is arrested and it begs the question, “What is really happening to our parents?”
Lilly Litigation Begs the Question – Should Whistleblower Employees Profit?
…Which Begs the Question: How Many Were Being Treated for Self-Inflicted Lung Cancer?
In each of these examples the expression to beg the question is being used as if it meant “to raise the question.”
It doesn’t mean that.
The expression to beg the question is a term of logic. It refers to the logical fallacy of arguing without evidence.
To beg is to ask someone to give you something for nothing.
To beg the question is to ask someone to accept your conclusions without requiring supporting evidence.
Example of begging the question:
A: Gone With the Wind is the greatest American novel ever written.
A: Because it was made into a movie and everybody knows that great novels are made into movies.
I suspect that the misuse of this expression arises by analogy with such expressions as I beg your pardon and I beg to differ. The feeling may be that it’s somehow classier to “beg a question” than to “raise a question.”
Careful writers, beware.