Begging for Some Enlightenment for Our Questionable President

There I was, listening to the radio whilst happily working in my shop, when the voice of the "the smartest president ever" abruptly interrupted my felicitude.  "The separatists," it said, “are removing evidence from the crash site – all of which begs the question: what exactly are they trying to hide?”

And I thought, "God Help Him, he doesn't know what it means!” 

In so doing, I begged three questions: that there is a God, that He is involved in our daily lives, and that He would be interested in helping Mr. Obama.

Now, I acknowledge that I'm venturing into a quagmire (begging the question of quagmires being sticky and unpleasant places into which to wander), but shouldn't this "genius" know that "all of which begs the question" does not mean "all of which raises the question"?

To beg the question is to assume an unstated premise in a statement or argument.  It does not mean to ask a question that begs to be answered.

It's one phrase that, heretofore, I've never, ever used anywhere (including conversationally) even when I was absolutely certain I would be using it correctly, and I’m absolutely certain that I may or may not have used it correctly herein.

It’s one phrase used incorrectly by almost everyone.  An extremely rare, correct use of it may be found here in a piece by Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Last year George Will wrote a disappointing column on the Obama administration’s interim deal with Iran. The problem with Will’s columns is its assumption that Iran can be contained/deterred. Will assumes without argument that doctrines of containment and deterrence are viable in the case of Iran; he assumes what is to be proved, i.e., he begs the question.

To me, hearing it used incorrectly is jarring – comparable to hearing Mrs. Clinton cackle, or hearing fingernails on a chalkboard, or hearing Mrs. Wasserman Schultz speak!

And seeing it used incorrectly in print is equally jarring, and comparable to seeing a gross obscenity in a staid article.

Language is, almost by definition, constantly changing, and its usage changes are often difficult to accept, particularly when a common or esoteric word or phrase changes its meaning or use.  Some changes, in Pat Moynihan’s words, define the language down, and when we lose fine distinctions in language, we also lose thought.

Consider the word “enormity.”  It is no longer exclusively applied to an especially atrocious or outrageous act; rather, it is regularly used to mean “something huge.”  This change is, indeed, an enormity!

Some years ago, the late grammarian James J. Kilpatrick expressed in correspondence with me and others his dismay when “fungible” began to be used with respect to monetary matters.   Today, it is acceptable usage, but it was a new and questionable usage of the word in the ‘80s.

That “begs” the question would become acceptable usage for “raises” or “asks” the question would represent to a horrific degree the extent to which our language is becoming debased.

Hearing the insufferable Sherry Preston’s playing, on the hour, every hour, Mr. Obama’s incorrect usage of petitio principii as she read what the editors at ABC radio fed her displayed to me that either Ms. Preston and/or her editors* don’t know what the phrase means or they don’t care that Mr. Obama uses it incorrectly.

And it brought to mind an interview Don Imus had with the obsequious Obama adorer, Michael Beschloss, that forever destroyed whatever reputation for objectivity Mr. Beschloss might have theretofore held:

Historian Michael Beschloss: Yeah. Even aside from the fact of electing the first African American President and whatever one’s partisan views this is a guy whose IQ is off the charts — I mean you cannot say that he is anything but a very serious and capable leader and — you know — You and I have talked about this for years …

Imus: Well. What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: … our system doesn’t allow those people to become President, those people meaning people THAT smart and THAT capable

Imus: What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: Pardon?

Imus: What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: Uh. I would say it’s probably – he’s probably the smartest guy ever to become President.

Imus knew that Mr. Obama was not the genius that he was being portrayed as being.  And he knew that Mr. Beschloss (who had been a regular guest on the show) was a fool for thinking so highly of Mr. Obama’s brainpower.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Beschloss never again appeared on the show, and his appearances elsewhere also became more infrequent.

Readers may watch Mr. Obama bumble here (at about 4:25).

*It seems most print editors omit Mr. Obama’s use of the phrase.

The author is retired.  His profile may be found on LinkedIn, and comments about his use of English grammar may be sent to bilschan@hotmail.com.

There I was, listening to the radio whilst happily working in my shop, when the voice of the "the smartest president ever" abruptly interrupted my felicitude.  "The separatists," it said, “are removing evidence from the crash site – all of which begs the question: what exactly are they trying to hide?”

And I thought, "God Help Him, he doesn't know what it means!” 

In so doing, I begged three questions: that there is a God, that He is involved in our daily lives, and that He would be interested in helping Mr. Obama.

Now, I acknowledge that I'm venturing into a quagmire (begging the question of quagmires being sticky and unpleasant places into which to wander), but shouldn't this "genius" know that "all of which begs the question" does not mean "all of which raises the question"?

To beg the question is to assume an unstated premise in a statement or argument.  It does not mean to ask a question that begs to be answered.

It's one phrase that, heretofore, I've never, ever used anywhere (including conversationally) even when I was absolutely certain I would be using it correctly, and I’m absolutely certain that I may or may not have used it correctly herein.

It’s one phrase used incorrectly by almost everyone.  An extremely rare, correct use of it may be found here in a piece by Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Last year George Will wrote a disappointing column on the Obama administration’s interim deal with Iran. The problem with Will’s columns is its assumption that Iran can be contained/deterred. Will assumes without argument that doctrines of containment and deterrence are viable in the case of Iran; he assumes what is to be proved, i.e., he begs the question.

To me, hearing it used incorrectly is jarring – comparable to hearing Mrs. Clinton cackle, or hearing fingernails on a chalkboard, or hearing Mrs. Wasserman Schultz speak!

And seeing it used incorrectly in print is equally jarring, and comparable to seeing a gross obscenity in a staid article.

Language is, almost by definition, constantly changing, and its usage changes are often difficult to accept, particularly when a common or esoteric word or phrase changes its meaning or use.  Some changes, in Pat Moynihan’s words, define the language down, and when we lose fine distinctions in language, we also lose thought.

Consider the word “enormity.”  It is no longer exclusively applied to an especially atrocious or outrageous act; rather, it is regularly used to mean “something huge.”  This change is, indeed, an enormity!

Some years ago, the late grammarian James J. Kilpatrick expressed in correspondence with me and others his dismay when “fungible” began to be used with respect to monetary matters.   Today, it is acceptable usage, but it was a new and questionable usage of the word in the ‘80s.

That “begs” the question would become acceptable usage for “raises” or “asks” the question would represent to a horrific degree the extent to which our language is becoming debased.

Hearing the insufferable Sherry Preston’s playing, on the hour, every hour, Mr. Obama’s incorrect usage of petitio principii as she read what the editors at ABC radio fed her displayed to me that either Ms. Preston and/or her editors* don’t know what the phrase means or they don’t care that Mr. Obama uses it incorrectly.

And it brought to mind an interview Don Imus had with the obsequious Obama adorer, Michael Beschloss, that forever destroyed whatever reputation for objectivity Mr. Beschloss might have theretofore held:

Historian Michael Beschloss: Yeah. Even aside from the fact of electing the first African American President and whatever one’s partisan views this is a guy whose IQ is off the charts — I mean you cannot say that he is anything but a very serious and capable leader and — you know — You and I have talked about this for years …

Imus: Well. What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: … our system doesn’t allow those people to become President, those people meaning people THAT smart and THAT capable

Imus: What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: Pardon?

Imus: What is his IQ?

Historian Michael Beschloss: Uh. I would say it’s probably – he’s probably the smartest guy ever to become President.

Imus knew that Mr. Obama was not the genius that he was being portrayed as being.  And he knew that Mr. Beschloss (who had been a regular guest on the show) was a fool for thinking so highly of Mr. Obama’s brainpower.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Beschloss never again appeared on the show, and his appearances elsewhere also became more infrequent.

Readers may watch Mr. Obama bumble here (at about 4:25).

*It seems most print editors omit Mr. Obama’s use of the phrase.

The author is retired.  His profile may be found on LinkedIn, and comments about his use of English grammar may be sent to bilschan@hotmail.com.