Begging The Question: Getting it Right


[tap, tap, tap].

Can everyone hear me? Thank you.

Today’s aggrieved English phrase is “begging the question.” First, what this phrase does not mean. Begging the question isn’t the same as “raising the question,” “asking the question,” or “brings up the question.” No. It is completely different.

“Begging the question” is an example of faulty logic. It actually has nothing to do

with asking a question. Another name for it is “begging the claim,” which makes the working parts easier to understand.

When someone begs the question, the speaker draws a conclusion, not from facts, but from something else stated in the sentence. For example:  Mean and ignorant people like John should never become department heads.

While “mean and ignorant people should not become department heads” is  logical, the very thing that needs to be proven—why John is not good leadership material—is assumed in the sentence.

log4p6Another example: She is a slob because she is unattractive.  Maybe the woman is unattractive, but that does not immediately make her a slob. More proof is needed. The sentence relies on proof that is assumed and not proven.

One more: Pollution-spouting monster trucks should be banned. The very conclusion that needs to be proven–that monster trucks create a lot of pollution—is missing. It’s just assumed.

 Bonus: Confusing words explained

Staunch means loyal or committed in support. “She was a staunch supporter of civil rights.” (It rhymes with paunch.)

Stanch means to stop or restrict, like a flow of blood. (It rhymes with blanch.)

Both words come from the same Old English (via Old French) word meaning “watertight.” While there is a strong trend to let both words mean both things, part of the beauty of the language is in the subtle differences in words that give specific, shaded and nuanced meanings to sentences.

Thank you.

Have a nice day.

—Quinn McDonald loves the English language in all it’s maddening confusion.




17 thoughts on “Begging The Question: Getting it Right

  1. Hmm . . . I had it wrong then (first time I’ve been wrong all day! It’s 8:18 a.m.) . I though the question begged was the clarification or investigation of the faulty logic.

    There is a national election here in September . . . how can I vote for someone who can’t communicate clearly? I think that rules almost <everyone out. Aaaarrrrggghhhh!

    • Newsreaders, politicians, and middle managers often fall into the habit of repeating what they hear, rather than looking it up. When questioned, they say, “everyone does it, so it’s now considered OK.” Nice try, but I admire people who look stuff up. Then again, you have to admit you don’t know something to be driven to look it up. And if you think “everyone” is right, it’s easy to think you are, too.

  2. I love this post! the begging the question thing is one of my major peeves. I have harassed several broadcasters on NPR to stop doing it, and to my amazement, they have! I hear them now saying, well, this suggests the question, or triggers the question, or some such much better usage. Too bad there are no criminal penalties for misusing it…

  3. You make me laugh! I can just hear us having this discussion and me looking at you with this “Aha” moment. I miss our lunches.

    Thank you.
    Have a nice day. hehehe

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