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Old October 4th 05, 04:24 AM
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"David Littlewood" wrote in message
In article , Nostrobino

(He sure could write)

He sure could, and I'm embarrassed not to have known that source.
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.)
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

It's not a popular play - the first of the English kings series (though I
don't know whether it was written first - I mean John was the earliest
king to be covered).

Popular or not, I should read it I suppose. When I took Shakespeare in
college, the professor had us read Titus Andronicus as an example of
below-standard Shakespeare, just to show that he didn't always write great
stuff. But I *liked* Titus Andronicus. Maybe I just have a depraved sense of
humor (the stew, of course).

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
as begging the question very much involves deliberately not raising a
question (i.e. the truth or otherwise of the underlying proposition)
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
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.

Incidentally - and getting even more off topic - the bit about parallel
lines never meeting is not an essential truth, it was merely one of the
assumptions ("axioms") postulated by Euclid (another Greek philosopher,
these guys got around) in devising the rules of geometry. Other systems of
geometry exist in which it is not true at all, thus demonstrating the
benefits of questioning the underlying assumptions.

Yes, I remember the recent discussion here about that. :-/


David Littlewood