If beggars could question
How frequently do you (as a copy editor or otherwise) come across the phrase "begs the question" as a synonym for "raises the question?" How close are we to altering the original definition?
Few things make me this angry.
So wrote an irate Jason Jones. Let's look at what has exercised him.
"To beg the question" does not mean to raise or pose or provoke a question. It is a technical term in logic for a circular argument.
Edward P.J. Corbett's Classic Rhetoric for the Modern Student (as useful for his list and descriptions of tropes as for his list and descriptions of fallacies) gives two examples. The lawyer who says, "My client would not steal because he is an honest man," is begging the question. A longer version: "'God exists.' 'How do you know that God exists?' 'The Bible says so.' 'Why should I put my credence in what the Bible says?' 'Because it's the inspired word of God.' God is worthy of a more cogent
argument than this."
Writers who were not taught logic in school -- evidently a great many -- will think that to beg a question means to give rise to a question.
In that they are like the multitude of writers who have appropriated technical but dimly understood language. A parameter, for example, is "a constant, with variable values, used as a referent for
determining other variables." If you are a mathematician, that definition from Webster's New World College Dictionary probably means something to you. If you are not a mathematician, you are probably using parameter to mean a boundary or limit or guideline, or perhaps nothing in
People do write this way. Some even talk this way. Eventually, loose applications of technical terms to different contexts find their way into the dictionary, some embedding themselves in the language. That is fine. But in the interval, anyone who wishes to write precisely will be cautious.