Guy Keleny wrote in Saturday’s Independent about the misuse of the phrase ‘beg the question’. His advice was simple – don’t use it because the meaning you’re after will almost certainly be ‘raise the question’, and begging the question isn’t the same thing at all. He didn’t think it was worth explaining what the latter really does mean, but at Accuracy Matters we’re a bit more curious than that, so here goes.
It’s from the world of logic, and the first person to write about the concept was Aristotle, so it’s got history. It means presenting as true an assumption that really requires proof before you can move on in your argument. So, if you say ‘Blackhill is clearly the best school in town, and that’s why I want my kids to go there’, you’re begging the question. Is it really the best school in town? How do you measure that? In short, where’s your proof?
Turns out that somebody feels so strongly about the misuse of the phrase that they’ve devoted a website to it, and you can even buy branded merchandise, including, oddly, thongs. Which raises other questions, I think.
Mr Keleny’s fundamental advice is probably right – unless you’re very sure of your ground, it’s probably best to steer clear of problem areas like this one and take the avoiding route. But, of course, to do this you have to know what the problem areas are in the first place…