- On February 28, 2017
When President Trump suggested Sweden had been attacked by terrorists, the former U.S. ambassador to that Scandinavian country noted, “It begs the question of where the president gets his information.”
While it’s easy enough to know what the ambassador meant, he used begs the question incorrectly. The expression doesn’t actually mean raises the question, which is what he should have said.
Begs the question, which refers to a logical fallacy whose formal name is the Latin petitio principii, means to base a conclusion on an assumption that needs proof as much as the conclusion itself. Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, shares the following great example, which finally made me understand this tricky term—and concept.
Imagine saying to someone, “Chocolate is good for you because it grows on trees.” The person could rightly reply, “That begs the question,” and add—or not, “There’s no proof that something is good for you just because it grows on a tree.” It’s an assumption that’s based on a faulty premise. It begs the question.
This whole exercise reminded me that the surest route to accuracy is to write and speak in the clearest, most direct way possible. And if a little voice inside of you questions how you’re using a word—or an expression—pay attention to it. It’s probably right.
Then go to the dictionary. It’s always right.