I’m fine with the normal use of “begging the question” (see this recent post), and I regularly mock those who insist on the petitio principii sense. But a line from a baseball story in my local paper this morning made me shake my head. It’s an AP story; here‘s the (somewhat longer) version carried in the Louisville Courier-Journal. I was reading along, agreeing with my wife (and many of those quoted) that these celebrations at home plate have gotten out of hand, when I hit the sentence “The question begs: Why go crazy celebrating a victory in late May like it was October?” How do you get from “begging the question” to “the question begs”? My first thought was that it was an invention of the writer, but then I realized that was unlikely, and sure enough, when I googled I found others. Most of the hits are for longer versions, presumably precursors: “the question begs to be asked” and “the question begs to ask” (sic). But a few seem to show this use; in particular, there’s an interesting line from “Late for Your Life,” a Mary Chapin Carpenter song from an album released in 2001: “Still the question begs why would you wait And be late for your life.” This could be taken as a tortured equivalent of “Still there is the question of why…,” but it seems more straighforward to take it as “Still the question begs [i.e., must be asked]: why…”
Is anyone familiar with this usage? (I think we can take it as a given that those who don’t use it themselves will object strenuously to it, but let’s face it, it’s just more language change coming over the horizon.)


  1. mollymooly says

    The mind is boggled.

  2. The best thing would be to ignore it until meaning has evolved. That’s what Darwin would have done.

  3. Once you’ve got so far as thinking that “begging the question” means “the question must be asked,” this seems like a perfectly reasonable development, a simple conversion of an impersonal-with-object construction to the more familiar subject-object, possibly under the influence of a Strunk-White zealot. As when “meseems” gets turned sometimes from “it seems to me” into “I seem to be” by writers (e.g. students struggling with their first go at Shakespeare) who are trying to get fancy. (“Omit needless words! Eschew inversions! I’ll get rid of ‘it!’ and restore the subject to its rightful place!”)

  4. I’ve seen this usage before, more than once. Sounds like a bit of a stylistic twist, but not wrong or weird by any means.

  5. “The question begs” is like a homeless person tugging at your sleeve in search of spare change that refuses to go away until satisfied.
    It’s also much shorter than “the question needs to be asked”.
    The combination of descriptive character and brevity gives this usage good survival potential.

  6. the quidnunc kid says

    Obviously if a question begs, it is a poor question – one asked by an idiot. Hence the phrase is usefully employed to sure up a speaker’s statement against the incredulity of an audience. However, a wealthy question (i.e., one rich in substance) would not beg but spend, hence the phrase, “let’s not spend time answering that question”.
    This is all fairly simple stuff and I would ask why you goddamn word-wizards haven’t realised this already – the question bugs, let me tell you.

  7. I don’t remember coming across the construction before. The question begs, and the answer shrugs its shoulders and changes into another outfit.

  8. The combination of descriptive character and brevity gives this usage good survival potential.
    I am forced to agree.

  9. Kid, are you shore? The poverty could be a matter of holy vows, and the question a saffron-robed seeker after truth. A beggar is sometimes a chooser.

  10. Hercules Rockerfeller says

    Backward run the sentences until reels the mind…

  11. dearieme says

    Well, Hat, it serves you right for giving the beggars an inch in the first place. Soon “begging the question” will mean anything from proposing marriage to soliciting campaign finance.

  12. I differ to beg.

  13. It beggars descriptivism.

  14. B_gger* beggars.
    *”Questionable content”.

  15. … And where it ends, knows God.

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