Begging the Question III.

Two more language-related Wondermark cartoons by David Malki ! (previous Wondermark here, previous begging the question here and here):
BBB…eing wrong.
Containing multitudes.
As always, be sure to read the mouseover text. (Thanks, Sven!)


  1. It still has the usual problem of treating the less bad Latin translation as if it were the original, rather than the actual Greek.

  2. The Straw Man’s explanation of the original meaning of “begging the question” is wrong: he’s thinking of “loaded question” (which, come to think of it, is also commonly used differently from its original sense). I wonder if that additional mistake is intentional on David Malki !’s part?

  3. I noticed that too, and I wish I knew.

  4. — I’m sure it’s relevant because it seems to be connected to the subject of this thread.

    EDIT: Do click the red button for supplementary punchline.

  5. Thanks, I wouldn’t have thought to click the red button!

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    Just free-associating from the “containing multitudes” one, I got peevish-feeling the other day after seeing a headline (maybe it was some metaphor involving Donald Trump?) using the phrase “opioid of the masses,” which made me think “what’s wrong with the perfectly good old word ‘opiate’? What’s the deal with People These Days all suddenly saying ‘opioid’ instead”? So I decided to investigate, and …

    1. I apparently had a bit of a recency-illusion thing going on b/c the google books corpus n-gram viewer says that “opioid” overtook “opiate” as early as 1989, although I expect this could be one of those situations in which a disproportionate number of hits are from texts aimed at a specialist audience and the lexical shift in ordinary non-specialist discourse (which presumably lagged the shift in specialist jargon) thus may have been more recent than those crossing trendlines suggest.

    2. At least in specialist-jargon theory, the words are not actually synonyms, with “opioid” having broader scope and covering both drugs actually produced using opium poppies as their ultimate raw material (which are ‘opiates’ strictu sensu) and “synthetic” alternatives (such as fentanyl) that are not poppy-derived but have similar pharmocological effects. I suppose that for most contexts where non-specialists have occasion to discuss the subject, the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” origin is not relevant, so the broader-scope term is the more appropriate one. Except for the fact that it sounds dorkier, which ought to be a good ground for peeving if peeving is ever appropriate. (Yeah, yeah, you’re probably going to tell me that my own aesthetic reactions aren’t objective universal truths. But, like, that’s just your opinion, man.)

  7. I would never say anything like that! And besides, I’m fascinated by “opioid of the masses,” which I hadn’t seen. (I think.)

  8. -Oid means ‘like it, but not the same’: opioid, cannabinoid, steroid, humanoid, terrestroid, thyroid ‘like a shield’, hyoid ‘like the letter upsilon’. Factoid originally meant ‘plausible but false factual claim’, but now has taken on the meaning ‘random mildly interesting fact’, which weakens people’s understanding of -oid. Originally (and still outside the U.S. and maybe Canada), a trapezium was a quadrilateral (four-sided figure) with only two parallel sides, and a trapezoid was a related quadrilateral with no parallel sides; the terms got swapped in 1795 in Hutton’s Mathematical Dictionary, to the hopeless confusion of geometry students ever since. Unfortunately, there is no term for a quadrilateral with only one parallel side.

  9. Paradocoid?

    But I thought humans were humanoids too.

  10. Unfortunately, there is no term for a quadrilateral with only one parallel side.

    Neither with three. Such are the oddities of parallels.

    Opiate of the masses wins over opium of the masses by a factor of 2 or 2.5. But opium of the people, which seems to be the best translation is still the most frequent though bleeding its share since 1940.

  11. The dope of the folks?

  12. I don’t think I have ever even heard “opium of the people.” I looked at the Google Books searches for “opium of the people” and “opiate of the masses,” and the first four pages of hits for the former were all seemingly rather scholarly sources. For the latter, it was a much more heterogeneous mix of scholarship, journalism, sportswriting, and congregational newsletters. It seems that “opium of the people” has some currency among scholars of religion and philosophy, but that the Google Ngrams counts for it are probably misleading, since small-circulation scholarly books are exactly the kid of thing you might expect to find over-represented in the library collections used to construct the corpus.

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    Well, if JC’s claim about -oid were consistently true, “opioid” would exclude actual opiates (and another umbrella term would be needed to mean opiates-plus-opioids). But I don’t think that’s how it’s used in practice.

  14. J.W. Brewer says is what I saw. The bylined author may not be responsible for the headline, of course.

  15. January First-of-May says

    The dope of the folks?

    This is probably the closest to the rather informal turn of phrase that the original Russians were going for.

    Also, just checked that latest SMBC, the one about the non-boiling pot…
    …Having watched quite a few pots with boiling water for amusement’s sake (and having no idea of the expression until fairly recently), I understand now that a watched pot does indeed never boil. Boiling is a relatively slow process; there’s almost never a point where you could honestly say it’s boiling now and it wasn’t boiling five seconds ago. (And by the time you realize it’s definitely boiling – which does eventually happen even if you’re watching – it probably had already been boiling for a minute or more.)
    On the other hand, if you only check the pot every minute (or even less often), it could occasionally happen that the pot is clearly boiling as of the most recent check but clearly wasn’t boiling at the previous one – making timing for turning it off much easier (if you’ve been watching, you have probably just lengthened your food’s actual boiling time by two minutes or so).

  16. The dope of the folks

    Given that it was Volk in the original, translating it as folks seems like cheating…

  17. In Africanist linguistics (and not elsewhere?) -oid is used for wider subgroupings: Ijoid, containing Ịjọ; Bantoid, containing the Bantu languages; etc.

  18. @January First-of-May: There is a result in quantum mechanics, which was called the “Watched Pot Theorem” by one of the groups of physicists that discovered it. The theorem states that a system under continuous observation (in the quantum-mechanical sense) will never change its state. However, their name did not stick, and the result is now known as the “Quantum Zeno Effect.”

  19. January First-of-May says

    @D.O. – I had no idea that the original was German, I thought this was translating from the Russian original… but it makes sense if the phrase originated from Marx and/or Engels (and not Lenin as I thought for some reason).

  20. David Marjanović says

    In taxonomic nomenclature, -oidea is the ending for the names of zoological superfamilies; the rest of such a name is always derived from that of the type genus of the type family. A few other names also end in -oidea, including a few genus names (Emydoidea, Caimanoidea), though for genus names the masculine version -oides is much more common.

    hyoid ‘like the letter upsilon’

    *lightbulb moment* Promptly reinvented as the ypsiloid cartilage near the pelvis of certain salamanders.

    the terms got swapped in 1795 in Hutton’s Mathematical Dictionary, to the hopeless confusion of geometry students ever since.

    Fortunately this damage has been limited to the English language.

    the version “opium for the people” is a paraphrase by Lenin.

    Promptly returned to German as Opium für das Volk, almost like a Chinese/Japanese round-trip word.

  21. Fortunately this damage has been limited to the English language.

    And only the American (perhaps also the Canadian) variety.

Speak Your Mind