Yesterday I was eating lunch at a restaurant, and overheard discussion at the next table. In describing the conduct of a co-worker, one gentleman said, that “it begged the question.” Being the geek that I am, I started wondering if he used the phrase right, and what exactly does “beg the question” mean? As I do every time I have a grammar question, I turned to Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl, and her latest book, 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master In No Time. In 101 Troublesome Words, Grammar Girl takes on more difficult word usage questions.
Now, I own most of Grammar Girl’s books. See, I told you I was a geek. And darn proud of it. I only have most of the books because my family insists I don’t buy every book I want so they have something to give me for birthdays and holidays.
What makes 101 Troublesome Words different than the rest? It tackles more difficult grammar and complicated questions, like exactly how to use the phrase “it begs the question” should be used, where short answers won’t suffice.
Let’s go back to the overheard conversation for a moment. Grammar Girl says
"Begs the question" comes from formal logic, in which the person making an argument does so in a way that simply states that the premise is true rather than proving it's true . . . . It does not mean "raises the question" or "begs I ask the question."
The guy sitting at the next table meant “it raises the question.” So, he used the phrase in the wrong way. When you hear people say something "begs the question" they most often mean "raise the question." Grammar Girl suggests that restoring the traditional meaning is a lost cause, and I based on my observations, I fear she's right.
Grammar Girl also makes distinctions, when necessary when British English and American English, and different style guides. It is "toward" or "towards"? The correct usage depends on whether you are using British or American English. Other interesting phrases Grammar Girl discusses in 101 Troublesome Words include whether it is “I could care less” or “I couldn't care less”. The two phrases mean different (and almost opposite) things. "All right" versus "alright" and other common questions are answered. Check out 101 Troublesome Words to learn the answers.
Yet again, Grammar Girl was given us a useful and humorous tool to resolve those tricky grammar issues we thought would never have to deal with after high school English, but sadly, we do. This book is a must for every writer what are you writing professionally, for fun, or just want to ensure you are using words appropriately.
I highly recommend Grammar Girls’ newest offering – 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master In No Time.