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Old October 3rd 05, 07:56 PM
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"David Littlewood" wrote in message
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 it
as you seem to believe. Look in any authoritative dictionary that has
notes, and you will find misusages that have enjoyed great popularity
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)

He sure could, and I'm embarrassed not to have known that source. (Sometimes
it seems to me that about half of our common expressions, and practically
all of the better ones, are from Shakespeare, so it doesn't surprise me.) I
think I've read most of Shakespeare's plays and especially love the
histories, but I guess I somehow missed King John. "Gilding the lily" is a
well-understood expression here in the U.S. too, but I never knew it was a

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 one 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
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 a 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 never 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 not raising a
question (i.e. the truth or otherwise of the underlying proposition) which
really needs to be raised.

Your explanation is certainly far better than my dictionary's, which
basically just says "beg the question" means "to reason badly" or some such
thing. I doubt that most American dictionaries even mention the expression
at all (my desk dictionary doesn't), which only makes it that much easier
for the ignorant to get away with misusing it.