begging the question

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Thu Jul 5 15:25:09 UTC 2001



>I have on several occasions heard Gary Cohen, a radio broadcaster for
>the NY Mets, use the phrase "beg the question" incorrectly.  This past
>weekend, in wrapping up a four-game series between the Mets and the
>Atlanta Braves, he said something to the effect that "This series begs
>the question: Can the Mets go 2 for 37 with runners in scoring position
>and still win 2 out of 4 games against a team like the Braves?"  I had
>resolved to post this to this group, as a matter of some interest, but
>before I could do so I heard Michael Kay, a Yankees radio broadcaster,
>give the elected All-Star Game lineup and say something like: "This
>begs the question: what players most deserve to be chosen by the
>managers to fill out the team."  These quotations beg the question: is
>it becoming a common usage to use the phrase "beg the question" as if
>it means "asks the question" or "raises the question"?
>I see Cohen's use of this term as differing somewhat from Kay's.  The
>question that Cohen begged can have a simple "yes" or "no" answer, or
>more precisely, "evidently, since it has just happened".  When Kay
>begged his question, he was not looking for a short answer, but opening
>a topic for discussion.
>I believe that Cohen is more or less young.  Michael Kay has described
>himself as 40.  He is from NYC.
>I do not describe this usage as "incorrect" without much thought, nor,
>indeed without some trepidation, since I know that it will subject me
>to the scorn of the anti-prescriptivists among us.  However, the
>phrase "begs the question" has a history that shows it to have a
>specific meaning, (as does the history of the word "nonplus", discussed
>here several months ago).  I do not know another concise way to express
>the historic meaning of "beg the question".  Cohen's and Kay's notion
>of the meaning of the expression can be expressed with "asks the
>question" or "raises the question".  But nothing in this paragraph
>should be taken to imply that I am unconscious of the folly of
>shovelling shit against the tide.  If people choose to use "begs the
>question" in the Cohen/Kay sense, it will happen.  But I don't need to
>stand on the sidelines cheering, either.
>The rants that have been posted here in the past against perceived
>prescriptivism have reminded me at times of the communist-baiting of
>the 40s and 50s, but somehow colorless.  A more vigorous vocabulary is
>needed, like "prescriptie bastard" or "prescript-symp".  Just a
>George A. Thompson
>Author of A Documentary History of "The African
>Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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