Friday, February 8, 2008

Which begs the question...

Which begs the question, what is the sound of the internet without a computer?
-- Telus radio ad, February 2008

This misuse of "begs the question", to my chagrin, is spreading and can be heard quite often on newscasts and sportscasts. I've also read the misuse in many online forums. It's everywhere. D'oh.

"Begging the question" is a form of logical fallacy in which an argument is assumed to be true without evidence other than the argument itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place. A simple example would be "I think he is unattractive because he is ugly." The adjective "ugly" does not explain why the subject is "unattractive" -- they virtually amount to the same subjective meaning, and the proof is merely a restatement of the premise. The sentence has begged the question.

To beg the question does not mean "to raise the question." (e.g. "It begs the question, why is he so dumb?") This is a common error of usage made by those who mistake the word "question" in the phrase to refer to a literal question. Sadly, the error has grown more and more common with time, such that even journalists, advertisers, and major mass media entities have fallen prey to "BTQ Abuse."

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