Archive for June, 2010

Beg To Differ

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

I try not to be a language-snob.  I realize that language is dynamic and rules are constantly changing/relaxing.  I even defend, nay, encourage the practice of using the maligned “y’all.”  I think its use clarifies the speaker’s meaning beyond the ambiguous plural or singular “you.”  The English language used to distinguish between “you (pl)” and “you (s)” with the words “thou” and “ye”– we’ve lost that distinction by just using “you.”  I am not advocating the return of “thou” and “ye”; so why not adopt the word “y’all” from our friends in the American South to take the place of “ye” to mean “you (pl)”?  Many years ago, I was at a party in Texas and I remember a mildly inebriated Texas-gal, waving her plastic cup around as she spoke, explaining the correct use of this infamous Southern contraction.

She said, “If I say ‘you,’ I’m talkin’ just to ‘you’ [pointing at me].   If I say ‘y’all,’ I’m talkin’ to you three [pointing at me and my two friends].  And if I say ‘all y’all,’ I’m talking to EVERYBODY HERE [gesturing to the entire room of 20 or so people]!  I laughed and never forget that valuable lesson in Southern syntax.

Anyway, there is something that I often hear that drives me a little crazy.   Too many people misuse the expression “begs the question.”  I often hear people use “begs the question” to mean “invites the question,” or “raises the question”– that’s wrong.  Begging the question is a logical fallacy where the “question” refers to the topic being debated, and “begs” means to avoid.  To “beg the question” means to assume your perspective on the “question” while making an argument for your point.  Obviously, a no-no.

I can better explain it by providing an example.  Let’s say Mickey and Donald* use the recent execution by firing squad in Utah as an opportunity to debate whether capital punishment is right or wrong (i.e. “the question”).  In any debate, certain assumptions are made and accepted by both parties.  Mickey posits the following:

“Murder is morally wrong.

Capital punishment involves killing a person.

Killing a person is murder.

Capital punishment is therefore murder.”

Donald should immediately be on him like white-on-rice for begging the question.  Donald ought point out that the word murder means “wrongful death.”  The definition of the word has wrong built into it.  Heck, we don’t call veterans murderers but they might’ve killed folks aplenty.  In Mickey’s statement above, he has just asked Donald to accept his perspective on the issue being debated as an assumption in his argument.  That IS the argument, not a data point to support it.  That, my dear readers, is begging the question.

You might run into someone begging the question if s/he says, “I know Daisy is telling the truth because she told me she’s telling the truth.”  That point requires the assumption that Daisy is truthful, which is the whole question.  Bam!  Begging the question.

I remember as a kid (and young adult) I ran into begging the question when I asked Sunday school teachers how we can know the Bible is true (I didn’t know it was called begging the question then).  They always answered that we can know this because II Timothy 3:16 tells us so.  Say wha?  Beg the question much?  Of course, just because someone begs the question doesn’t make their perspective wrong (or right), it just makes that person a poor debater whose argumentation makes no sense.

So, the next time you hear someone say “…that begs the question…” she’d better be referring to a logical fallacy or she is using the expression incorrectly.  I often want to say to these people, “I don’t see the logical fallacy in what you are describing, please explain.”  But doing that would make me a know-it-all Ahole– which I might well be, but not EVERYONE has to know that, right?  There’s a much better dissection of the term Begging the Question here; enjoy.

Oh, and one more thing, Nina is learning about gravity the hard way.  Poor thing keeps falling and bumping around.  She’s all bruised up like a little-kickboxer these days.  It’s a little nerve-wracking to see her being so clumsy.  She has a promising future as a stunt-double.

This is her new theme song:

YouTube Preview Image

Also, Cati and I think that Natalia might be a reincarnated pirate’s parrot.   She seems most comfortable on one of our shoulders– ALL THE TIME– noon, 3AM, 5AM, even when I’m blogging.  We’ll have to see if her first words are “shiver me timbers.”  That might prove it.  See what I mean:

So, tell me in the comments section, what drives you crazy? I also wince when I hear adverbs misused as adjectives.  For example, “I feel badly.”  That means your sense of touch is busted. You likely mean, “I feel bad.”

Also, I have some confessions to make (just call me St. Augustine,  Jr.).  I am not without my own hideous grammar faults.  I have been corrected by Cati several times over the years for saying something like “He had just went to the store.”  She stops me and says  “GONE.  He had just GONE to the store.  Stop saying it wrong.”  I still do it though.  I’ve tried to defend it or explain it and I can’t.  I’m just ignernt.

* I’m watching more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than I care to, these days.