Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beg the Question alert

Beg the QuestionFrom Mark Allen Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 78:

"The group's [i.e. Jesus Seminar] ideological slant, then, may have been unintentional, but it is also undeniable. The Jesus Seminar is not representative of the guild of New Testament historical scholarship today. Rather, it is representative of one voice within that guild, a voice that actually espouses a minority position on some key issues. Nevertheless, this voice is a chorus. The charge "They all think alike!" is not completely accurate but, in any case, begs the question "Why do they think alike?" The harmony of so many usually independent voices is precisely what demands that attention be given to this chorus of scholars."

(HT: Nathan Eubank)


Doug Chaplin said...

I must confess to a certain dubiousness over this "grumpy old man" campaign. "Humph … gay doesn't mean homosexual, it means cheerful. These homosexuals have ruined a beautiful word" Words and phrases change in usage, and I would say that "begs the question" has shifted in meaning, like it or lump it. That may deprive us of a useful observation phrase about ungrounded or circular assumptions, but no doubt the natural resilience of English will cope.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Doug. From the FAQ:

"Shouldn't we accept that words change in meaning over time?

True, words like "cool" and "gay" gained new meaning via a process of modern association with their understood meanings, but BTQ abuse rises from a misunderstanding of its original use. It would be as though people started using "the die is cast" to mean dying, simply because the word "die" is in there, without any knowledge of Caesar. Is there any idiom -- not a single word, but a full phrase -- whose meaning has changed over the years, simply by virtue of its being misunderstood by the linguistically inept or the historically ignorant?"

Doug Chaplin said...

Sorry for the delayed reply, but I am tempted to ask whether that answer from the FAQ doesn't beg the question. Perhaps BTQ is exactly the sort of example the FAQ is looking for.

Ian said...

> Is there any idiom -- not a single
> word, but a full phrase -- whose
> meaning has changed over the years

Comedy of Errors

Like Begging the Question, the meaning has become increasingly literal and lost much of its original sense.

Also like Begging the Question you occasionally find people who take umbrage with its 'mis'-use.