Beg To Differ

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:

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.

16 Responses to “Beg To Differ”

  1. Cati says:

    I don’t like the indefinite “they” as a third person. However, the misusage is very common. I understand the purpose of the indefinite “they”, since it gives us the opportunity to avoid making the subject masculine or feminine and avoid a politically incorrect assumption about the person. But it still bugs me.

    I also truly dislike the plural “all”, as in “Alls I know is…”

    As you did, I will come clean about my own grammatical bad habits. I often say “every other once in a while” which is stupid and makes no sense, and I say it anyway.

    Now I must go pick up our little parrot, who is tired of the 2 minutes she spent in her hammoc, so that I could write this comment.

    See you later, alligator.

  2. Gina says:

    As I have told you before, I am impressed that a non-English major (and an engineer at that) is such a proficient (and entertaining) writer. Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising considering your analytical tendencies.

    I agree with Cati, the use of “they,” though meant to avoid a form of sexism, is quite annoying (and I hate having to use it in my writing).
    Something that bothers me, is when someone says “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for…”–when saying “Thank you for…” gets right to the point. I think what annoys me the most though, is when people misspell definitely—people always end up adding an “a” in there and I just don’t get how someone can know how to spell “definite” and not figure out that adding an “ly” makes it “definitely.”

    I make grammatical errors all the time when I speak (I get that from my mother*), though I try to correct them when I realize it. However, except for the occasional misused word and typo (lots of typos), I try to keep my writing relatively error free. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “begs the question” used by anyone I know–but I bet I will now.

    *She often says “supposably”–that is one mistake I do not make.

  3. t.heff says:

    I guess I never _really_ knew what this expression meant, despite the fact that I’ve heard it used many times before (incorrectly, most likely). I probably just smiled, nodded and agreed, with absolutely no concept that a website existed with…. wait for it… it’s very own BTQ LOGO! I mean – sheesh! That certainly begs many a question, now doesn’t it?

    Ok, here’s one that drives me crazy. I think this is kind of a new fad (at least I hope it is), and it seems to be creeping up in FB status updates, comment sections, etc. It’s the addition of a period after every word. Just. For. Effect. Oh, and capitalizing the first letter of every word. Shortest. Sentences. Ever.

    As annoying and irritating as I find this to be, I have to admit that it catches my attention. Every. Time. I fear that advertising will pick up on this technique, and we will soon be drowning in one word sentences about cell phones, pharmaceuticals and insurance companies.

  4. Lydia says:

    How about just between you and I? It drives me crazy!

  5. Albany Jane says:

    I used to be guilty of “definately”… the occasional sounding out of words usually works, but sometimes you just get caught in that habit. I also used to type because as “becuase” and just never noticed it, even though I could spell it aloud just fine.

    My biggest peeve is the I/me misuse (like Lydia mentioned). I remember I was in 3rd grade when my teacher got fed up with everyone misusing I and me. “You put the other person first because that’s polite. If you have a question over whether to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ just imagine saying it without that person and how it would sound. You wouldn’t say “Me like ice cream”, so say “Chris and I like ice cream””. So simple once someone explains it to you.

    Ok, end rant!

  6. Glenn says:

    I have a bunch of grammatical pet peeves, but can’t think of most of them at the moment.

    One that I’ve been running into a lot, lately, is people not understanding that to have a bias is to be biased, with an “ed.” I’m continually reading about how an article or a person is bias, as in, “that person is very bias.” Drives me up a wall!

  7. alex|dimitri says:

    Cati- The gender-neutral “they” is so prevalent, I think it’s impossible to turn back the tide on that one.

    Gina- Thanks for the compliment– so you’re saying, “I entertain you? Like a clown?” I have to set a clear nerd boundary though, I’m not an engineer. My education was in Chemistry. Chemists are like engineers, only smarter, more handsome, more charming, more often correct, and have higher HDL/LDL ratios– but pretty much the same except for that. :)

    So much speech and writing is filled with needless– well, filler– it bugs me too. I can judge a public speaker as an airbag within 3 to 5 minutes, usually. Have you seen Fred Armisen do that political-commentator character on SNL Weekend Update? It’s hilarious. He just speaks and speaks and doesn’t ever make a single point. He just uses filler words and expressions. Look for it; it’s incredibly funny and annoying.

    t.heff- Best. Comment. Ever. Thanks. Maybe a period after each letter would really be dramatic. Maybe you’re supposed to read each period as “stop” like they used to do with telegrams back in the day. Ooooh freak-eeee.

    Lydia, that one drives Cati and me (I?) cuckoo as well.

    Albany Jane- Preach it! Educate the masses.

    Glenn- Man, that’s a dumb one. I remember in Jr. High we had an essay to write and the teacher told us to write “Essay” at the top of our paper before passing it forward to be collected. The kid that was sitting behind me wrote “S. A.” on his paper. He might be the guy writing “bias” instead of “biased” today.

    Cati and I have an idea. We want to have a closed caption option on TV that points out people’s errors as they make ’em. Reality TV provides TONS of opportunity for correction. Bad grammar, misused expressions, wrong words, you name it. You could switch on the CC 3 option and scroll the corrections. Who wants to subscribe?

  8. Steve Barnes says:

    I’m all for “y’all.” I especially like the effect it has when I deploy it myself, because others are often startled to hear “y’all” used by someone born, raised, educated and employed in the Northeast.

    We part ways, however, on what seems to me to be your overhyphenation. In the post above, only the compound adjective “nerve-wracking” requires a hyphen. “Language-snob” and “stunt-double” might be arguable, but I still don’t think a hyphen is required, as “language” and “stunt” each simply modify the following word. “Little-kickboxer” is just plain wrong.

  9. alex|dimitri says:

    Oh snap. I just got told. Yeah, what is that hyphen doing there in “Little-kickboxer”?

    I blame my copy editor.

    Cati, how could you let all those superfluous hyphens through? You have some serious explaining to do. :)

  10. t.heff says:

    My copy editor informed me that I incorrectly used the possessive form of “it’s” in my earlier comment. This is getting ugly; can we move on yet?
    * second guesses usage of semicolon in previous sentence as “submit comment” button is clicked *

  11. Stevo says:

    My skin crawls when someone says “Him and his sister went to the store”. Correct grammar is “He and his sister…”.

    This has to be one of the most common grammar mistakes people make. The same rules apply as (Albany Jane mentioned) for Me and I. You would never make the mistake of saying “Him went to the store”.

  12. Gina says:

    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/update-nicholas-fehn/224735/?__cid=thefilter

    Alex, I’m not sure if that link will work, but I believe it is the Nicholas Fehn bit.

  13. alex|dimitri says:

    That’s the skit. Funny stuff, eh? Thanks Gina.

  14. Eddie says:

    “Could care less”…it is Could NOT care less…if I could care less than it really isn’t that big of a deal is it?

  15. Kim says:

    Same difference . . . huh?

  16. Claude says:

    First of all, y’all have a lot of time on your hands which begs the question what is the point?…..LOL. Anyway ” you’ve got mail ” coined by aol probably on of the best grammatical errors ever.