Grammar Moses: I beg to differ on common usage of 'begs the question'

 
 
Updated 10/19/2019 5:41 PM

Would that I could read and comprehend the entire Webster's Third New International Dictionary that sits on my desk.

But I could no longer digest it with my brain than digest its 2,784 pages with my stomach, even if I were to wash it down with a chocolate cake shake from Portillo's.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Because English is such an expansive language, it should come as no shock that I overlook the true meanings of some words and phrases that clearly get stuck in some people's craw.

Reader David Montville, in answering my call for grammary things that drive you mad, had this to say:

"I could point a few things out every day, but every now and then one of them hits my special hot button. Take the headline: Bears' final 53 begs the question: what's the point of the exhibition season?

I see 'begs' incorrectly interchanged with 'raises' frequently. Such a bad habit. People read this and think this must be the correct way to communicate."

I had always thought "begs" is synonymous with "raises" in this case, probably because I am so accustomed to hearing it misused. That, and no one ever corrected me.

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So, thanks for that, David.

I didn't pay much attention in the logic portion of my college philosophy class, so bear with me.

"Begs the question" points to a kind of circular reasoning that occurs in a few cases:

• When one makes a conclusion based on a premise that is unsupported:

"Randy's tires are made from special Brazilian rubber, so they're the best."

That begs the question: "Is Brazilian rubber the best rubber for the manufacture of tires?"

• When the premise has nothing to do with the conclusion:

"Randy's tires are the most popular tires on the road. They're the best!"

That begs the question: "What does a tire's popularity have to do with quality? Could it be that Randy's tires cost a third of what Michelins cost?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Or the conclusion is merely a different way to state the premise:

"Randy's makes the best tires because they're the finest tires on the road."

That begs the question: "What makes them the best tires?"

What's wrong with this sign posted on a post office door? Plenty!
What's wrong with this sign posted on a post office door? Plenty! - Courtesy of Kim Christenson
Bad doge!

Reader Kim Christenson sent me the attached photo she took while at the post office.

She did so several months ago, so in the event the sign has been removed or edited, I won't tell you which post office it was.

Where to begin?

A doge was a Venetian magistrate. Doges led until the turn of the 19th century. My first brush with a doge was while reading "Othello."

While doges no longer exist, I'd think if one were to pop up he would be able to avail himself of an array of postal services.

Dogs and mail carriers don't mix, so I assume that is what the sign poster was after.

Second, I've nearly given up on punctuation on signs. I'll give a pass on the missing comma, period or exclamation point after "Sorry," but "inside" is one word. The hyphen in the line break is pretty important.

My message: Every writer needs an editor. Every sign maker needs two.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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