Either way, don’t beg the question

Some prescriptivists insist that beg the question means, and can only mean, assume the conclusion of a philosophical argument, and doesn’t mean, and cannot mean, raise the question. The esteemed Mark Liberman of Language Log traces the whole history from Greek to Latin to English in probably more detail than you will ever need or want (brief summary: almost everyone now uses it to mean raise the question) and concludes: 

If you use the phrase to mean “raise the question”, some pedants will silently dismiss you as a dunce, while others will complain loudly, thus distracting everyone else from whatever you wanted to say. If you complain about others’ “misuse”, you come across as an annoying pedant. And if you use the phrase to mean “assume the conclusion”, almost no one will understand you.

My recommendation: Never use the phrase yourself — use “assume the conclusion” or “raise the question”, depending on what you mean — and cultivate an attitude of serene detachment in the face of its use by others.

The reason I am mentioning this is that a few days ago I was watching a TED-X Talk in which the (native US English) speaker said:

Which begs me to ask another question …

No it doesn’t.

PS 26 Aug: A commenter on a Language Log post seems to have used the phrase in its original sense, judging by his punctuation: “”Is this the best way to approach the problem of the lack of scientific terminology in African languages ?”. I think that this begs the question. Is there any evidence that the lack of scientific terminology in African languages is a problem ?”

Advertisement

last writes

A document mentioned that someone was unable to return to his home country to perform “last rights” for a dying or dead parent. 

Rights are legal or moral; rites are religious or social (compare rituals). Overall, rights is far more common, but last rites is far more common than last rights (“This government is taking our last rights away from us!”). There is very rarely a last rite, and a last right is almost non-existent. (Compare last right, as is “This party will last right through the night!”.)

One type of rite is a rite of passage, which term was coined by Arnold van Gennep in 1909, but didn’t become popular until the 1960s. A right of passage is a term from maritime law, but may also refer to an easement on land (also referred to as a right-of-way).

아모르 파티

My wife has been watching a Korean drama named 아모르 파티. I searched for information in English. Some sources render 파티 as party (so amor party is a love party), but far more as fati,* in which case what’s a love fati? Some sources add that amor fati is Latin for the love of fate, specifically one’s own fate. The concept dates from the Greek Stoics, and Wikipedia quotes Nietzsche: “that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.”

The drama is, as summarised by AsianWIki: “A divorcee with cancer and a penniless single father meet and heal their wounds with the help of each other.” I wonder how many Koreans are familiar with Latin or Stoic philosophy; in fact I wonder how many people from any country are.  

Another current drama 미스 몬테크리스토 (mi-seu mon-te-keu-ri-seu-to, Miss Montechristo) also alludes to Western literature, namely Dumas’ The Count of Monte Christo. Just because I haven’t encountered amor fati and have encountered The Count of Monte Christo (but haven’t read it) doesn’t necessarily mean that other people haven’t and have. 

(* both p and f can be transliterated as ㅍ; the actual Korean consonant is much closer to p)

peroquial and ineaningfrrl

I have written several blog posts with the tag ‘lost in autosubtitling’, most recently three days ago, so you may think I have a dim view of technological approaches to language. But sometimes technology gets it right, even when humans have made the mistake in the first place.

Yesterday morning I read a Facebook post in which someone complained about the “peroquialism” in a certain book sometimes considered an Australian classic. My first thought was that it was related to colloquialism – that is, “characteristic of or appropriate to ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing”, but the lack of a first l made that unlikely. (All the speech-related words have loqu– or loc-, from Latin loquī to speak.) When I searched for it, a well-known search engine suggested “Did you mean: parochialism” – that is “excessive narrowness of interests or view” Continue reading

“I taste self but at”

Some linguistic explorations get more puzzling the further I pursue them.  Today’s lesson was about the pattern NP look(s)/sound(s)/smell(s)/taste(s)/feel(s) ADJ and related patterns. The lesson started with look, with photos of actors in emoting in character. Sound was provided on the textbook’s CD, and I explained smell and taste with examples of food (both) and perfume (smell). I mentioned that we might say You smell beautiful to a loved one, but are unlikely to say You taste beautiful even then.

Except some people do. Google Ngrams shows You taste good/wonderful/salty/sweet/delicious/better, all of which emerged in the 1960s and 70s. You taste better, not surprisingly, leads to You taste better than, but Ngrams gives no result for You taste better than *. I am trying to think how I could end a sentence with those words: maybe Here is a list of things you taste better than. Continue reading