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Old October 3rd 05, 07:22 PM
Frank ess
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David Littlewood wrote:
In article , Nostrobino

"David Littlewood" wrote in message
In article , Nostrobino

Common use makes it "correct", and indicates the language has

No. The popularity of some misusage does not automatically make
as you seem to believe. Look in any authoritative dictionary that
has usage
notes, and you will find misusages that have enjoyed great
popularity for many, many years and are just still as wrong as
they ever were.
As with many "quotations" - for example, "gilding the lily".

I'm not familiar with the origins of that.

It is a Shakespeare quotation which has gone into common usage here
for needless over-adornment or expense, as for example with gold
plated taps. However, although pretty well everyone in the UK at
least would understand "gilding the lily" to mean this, it is a
foolish misquote, which flatly makes nonsense of the point: lilies
are not already gilded, so gilding them is not pointless.

The correct quote (from King John, ii 9) is:

"To be possess'd with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue,
Unto the rainbow, or with taper light,
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and hideous excess."

(He sure could write)

Byron also quoted the key line in Don Juan, stanza 76:

"As Shakespeare says, 'tis very silly
To gild refined gold, or paint the lily."

However, if you used the expression "painting the lily" I doubt if
in a thousand in the UK would get the point.

Just an example of the massive power of popular ignorance.

My current anti-favorite is "that begs the question, question
inserted here." Ever since some TV ads appeared (again and again)
with a voice-over asking, "That begs the question, Is it better to
give name of product, forgotten or to receive?" this annoying
misusage has spread like the proverbial wildfire, among
commentators, columnists and others, who evidently think it's just
classy way of saying "raises the question." Here in the U.S. the
expression "that begs the question" was almost
never seen, except occasionally in British writing. So when the
average American reader saw "that begs the question" in, say, an
English novel, he had not the foggiest idea what it meant.
(Question? What question?) Now unfortunately we see it again and
again, *never* used correctly.

To beg the question is, correctly, to assume the truth of a
proposition without actually attempting to prove it. For example
(from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable): "parallel lines
meet because they are parallel". Originally a translation from Latin
"petitio principii", though first used by the Greek Aristotle.

You are right in that it should not be used to mean "raises the
question", as begging the question very much involves deliberately
raising a question (i.e. the truth or otherwise of the underlying
proposition) which really needs to be raised.

I've almost given up on derailing the new usage and soon-to-be
standard meaning. Begs the question: "Have they stopped beating their

Frank ess