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Old October 3rd 05, 09:26 PM
David Littlewood
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In article , Nostrobino

(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

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).

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.

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.

David Littlewood