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Pet Peeves


Subscribers to CRUCIVERB-L have been inundated in past days by off-topic postings under the title "Pet Peeves" (least favorite words, cliches, grammatical mistakes, etc.) Someone suggested that it should be moved to a forum,  but it hasn't happened yet.  So, as a public service, I'm starting this topic.

My pet peeve is the phrase "begs the question" being used to mean "raises the question." Example:  "Finding that one public official has been taking bribes begs the question of how many others have not been caught."

I hear this usage on newscasts all the times, but no less an authority than Wikipedia (?) calls it "incorrect."

Garison Piatt:
The problem here is that the correct meaning of "begs the question" uses an incorrect meaning of "beg".  Hence the confusion.

Most definitions of beg fall into the "plea/entreaty" category.  Those which don't mean either to take for granted, as in, "that statement begs the point we're discussing;" or to fail to come to grips with, as in, "that statement begs the point we're discussing."

You can see where someone might get confused.

I don't normally support incorrect use of the language, but since the popular use makes more sense, and the correct use is only uttered by the three remaining professional debaters, I think it's best to let this one go.


Garison Piatt:
While we're on the subject of words and phrases which the language expert got hopelessly wrong, a perennial bugbear for me is "reduplication". explains it so:
1.    the act of reduplicating; the state of being reduplicated.
2.    something resulting from reduplicating.
3.    Grammar.
   a.    reduplicating as a grammatical pattern.
   b.    the added element in a reduplicated form.
   c.    a form containing a reduplicated element.

(In a later post, we'll discuss "tautology".)

This applies to words like "bye-bye", "knock-knock", "choo-choo" and the like, where one syllable or word is "reduplicated" to make a single term with two equivalent parts.

But if it really was "reduplicated", wouldn't there be three parts?


Todd G:
I will redouble my effort to avoid using that word.   ;D

But seriously, Garison, who is the language expert you're referring to?


As someone who has several pet peeves of my own (e.g., "impact" for "affect" and "orientate" for "orient"), I was brought up short by a recent book from David Crystal titled The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left, written at least in part as a response to Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.  His primary point is that prescriptive grammar, punctuation, spelling, and pronunciation are constantly changing, indeed have always been changing.  (He cites evidence going back a thousand years to Aelfric the Grammarian!)  Nothing can (or should) be done to try to stop this change.  The rules are not useless, he argues, but they should be understood in context.  What is important is how clearly and effectively we communicate, not whether our means of communication is perfectly in accord with the (always changing) rules.  Further, the less formal the context of communication, the less we should be concerned about deviations from the rules that do not hinder meaning.

Crystal is one of the world's foremost authorities on the English language.  He has written many books, including The Stories of English, a fascinating history of the language.  The Fight for English is just as entertaining.  I recommend it highly to my Cruciverb colleagues.  It might even reduce our stress levels regarding pet peeves just a tad.

A final note:  As I proofread my message (and who proofreads any more!?!), I discovered that I had a plural subject and singular verbs in the predicate clause of the sentence beginning "His primary point is . . . ."  (I had originally mentioned only grammar and not the other features of language---hence the error.)  Crystal would suggest that my error was trivial and unimportant since it is unlikely that it altered or clouded the meaning of my statement.  Moreover, I am writing informally, in an on-line discussion forum, which makes the error even less important.  Still, I"m sufficiently a "prescriptivist" that I went back and corrected the error!


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