Print, pixels and prescriptivism

by John Quiggin on November 23, 2008

This post on a question-begging argument in favour of carbon taxes and against an emissions trading scheme, naturally raised (!) the question of whether the correct interpretation of a phrase like “begging the question” is determined by the predominant usage or by its original derivation as a technical term in logic or maybe by some other criterion such as the efficiency of communication.

That set me thinking and I turned to the usual research tools Wikipedia and Google to look at how this phrase and a couple of other standard items for debate (“aggravate” and “metholodogy”) are actually used.

Before I start, I’ll declare my biases. In my view the difference between the “annoy” and “make worse” meanings of “aggravate” is simply one of dialect. There are perfectly good substitutes like “irritate” and “exacerbate” for either meaning. However, in my dialect “aggravate” means “make worse”. The common use of “begs the question” is a natural error, and the technical translation of “petitio principii” is not at all intuitive. Still, there’s no good substitute (“circular argument” doesn’t quite do, in my view). Finally, “metholodogy” for “method” is indefensible. It’s pretentious, ignorant and wipes out an important (if not always clear-cut) distinction.

Looking at Google (results depend on location so YMMV), I found lots of uses of “aggravate” in its original sense, very few for “annoy” and a fair number of grammar articles explaining the difference, and taking different views on prescription. My guess is that the “annoy” sense is on the way out in spoken as well as written/typed English.

On “begging the question”, I found lots of “raise the question” uses, lots of dispute about the correct use, mostly favouring the technical use (here’s CT’s John Holbo, for example), and not very many correct technical uses. Despite this, I’m going to guess that the technical use will win out in the long run. The main reason is that, given the availability of “raise the question”, users of “beg the question” as a substitute are on a hiding to nothing[1]. At best, the error will pass un-noticed, but there is still nothing gained. At worst, you’ll get picked up on it, and if you try a descriptivist defence, get hammered for that too. This is much more likely to happen on the Internet than if, say, you’re a TV interviewer (where the usage seems to have been popularised), a point to which I’ll return.

Finally, with “methodology”, there are few more correct uses, but a great many more incorrect ones, and only occasional discussion of the issue. What’s more the erroneous uses are predominantly in high-status sources, such as government reports and academic publications, which makes it less likely that users will feel marked as poorly educated (although, in this respect they are). I’d say that the method/methodology distinction is a lost cause, and that we will end up having to use something convoluted like “philosophy of scientific method”. About the only sign of hope here is that “methodological” is much more commonly used correctly, particularly in constructions like “methodological individualism”.

Coming finally to the title of the post, I think that, just as the arrival of print greatly slowed the rate of linguistic drift, the Internet is already acting to discourage misuse of technical terms. On the other hand, I think it’s accelerating the demise of certain kinds of grammar snarks, such as bans on split infinitives or objections to the now-standard uses of “hopefully” (analogous with “fortunately” and many others) and “data” as a mass noun rather than as a Latin plural (compare “agenda”). Finally, FWIW, it’s doing a lot to encourage acceptance of acronyms initialisms.

fn1. A specific kind of no-win situation. Literally, it’s a bet where you can either lose a lot (cop a hiding), or win nothing, for example taking on a contest where you are expected to win easily, so that you gain no credit from victory, and are disgraced by defeat. Language Hat.

{ 54 comments }

1

Steve Laniel 11.23.08 at 4:11 am

While we’re on the subject of debates over pedantry, is it pedantic to note that FWIW isn’t an acronym, but is rather an abbreviation?

2

John Quiggin 11.23.08 at 4:35 am

According to Wikipedia, it’s actually an initialism. I was unaware of this useful distinction. Let’s hear it for teh Intertubes!

3

Leon 11.23.08 at 4:35 am

Is “agenda” a mass noun?

“The agenda”, “many agendas”, *”much agenda”.

4

Kieran 11.23.08 at 4:40 am

Still, there’s no good substitute (“circular argument” doesn’t quite do, in my view).

“X assumes what needs to be proved”?

I’d say that the method/methodology distinction is a lost cause

I think C. Wright Mills can be found complaining about it in The Sociological Imagination (1959).

5

Colin Danby 11.23.08 at 4:42 am

What’s the distinction that particular point of pedantry turns on, Steve?

ew the first point see http://www.heptune.com/aggravat.html

6

pogonisby 11.23.08 at 5:02 am

‘beg the question’, unfortunately, has assonance on its side. Many clichés assonate or otherwise aurally self-correspond. Worse, both eh vowels are stressed.

I don’t see it dying.

7

Michael Turner 11.23.08 at 5:34 am

“Metholodogy”? Is that divination from hallucinations caused by amphetamine psychosis?

Ah, you mean “methodology.” In software engineering, that usually means something like “methods used in accordance with a school of thought on designing, building and maintaining software systems.” Calling it “method” never quite did it for me, but at the same time I’ve always found “methodology” a bit inflated. I don’t know of a better word, though.

“Methodology” in the sense of “study of methods in a discipline” might be thought of as yielding various “methodologies”. Perhaps after the pattern of “Topology” (the mathematical field) yielding various “topologies” (specific instances of topological objects).

In the sciences, I think this is reasonable. However, in software, “methodology” has always seemed vaguely cultish to me. You’re typically signed up for only One True Methodology at a time. Periodically you lose your faith, only to move onto the Next One True Methodology. When a statistician speaks of a study’s methodology, I’m relaxed. But when a software engineer speaks of a project’s methodology, I slip the safety catch on my Browning. That’s just the kind of Semantics Nazi I am.

I hope I’m not aggravating anyone with this contribution, which I’m sure begs a lot of questions. Well, actually, I could care less what people think. Irregardless of how revelant it might be. I have determined through intensive metholodogy that everybody’s out to get me anyway.

8

Michael Turner 11.23.08 at 5:41 am

That should’ve been “Hopefully, I’m not–” rather than “I hope I’m not”, above. Sorry.

9

roy belmont 11.23.08 at 5:59 am

For some reason reading Michael Turner’s comments made me go look up “tendentious”, but when I did I realized the word I was really looking for was “supercilious”.
Which is suffering from homonymic degradation I think. Because it sounds like “super silly”. When it actually means overly convinced of one’s own superiority and importance.

10

Zach 11.23.08 at 7:11 am

I hate it when people get up in arms over the “misuse” of the phrase “begging the question” because, while it does have a very specific meaning in the context of debating, the literal meaning of the words has nothing to do with an argument that assumes what needs to be proven. Instead, when someone makes a statement which is incomplete in some obvious way that forces (nay, begs ) others to say “Hey, but what about this question!” that person’s statement “begs the question.” This is actually a slightly different situation from raising a question, and in my experience is rarely used to mean “raised the question.” When a person actually asks the questions, the question has been raised. When a statement naturally leads to a question, that question has been begged for.

11

Guardian style guide 11.23.08 at 7:58 am

hopefully
like many other adverbs, such as frankly, happily, honestly and sadly, hopefully can be used as a “sentence adverb” indicating the writer’s view of events – “hopefully, we will reach the summit” – or as a “manner adverb” modifying a verb – “we set off hopefully for the summit”. Why some people are upset by “hopefully we will win” and not “sadly we lost” is a mystery

12

nigel holmes 11.23.08 at 8:27 am

Most people who haven’t studied philosophy (if they’re like me) probably meet “begging the question” for years and get the point of the sentences, while mistaking the actual meaning: that is the ignorant, when they meet it correctly used, suppose that it’s like “raising the question” with an ellipse and in this case, the unstated question is something along the lines of “but how do you know x in the first place?” I’m curious whether mistaken uses of the phrase (in that they supply the question) tend to occur more often in contexts where petitio principii is an issue .

13

Keith M Ellis 11.23.08 at 8:50 am

I tend to be slightly ambivalent on the prescriptivism/descriptivism issue. In general, I side with the descriptivists because the prescriptivist view of language is naive and wrong. Yet I argue for some prescriptivist positions on usage when I believe that some utility would be otherwise lost.

As John says, begging the question is an example of this—there’s a better, less ambiguous idiom available for this new usage: raising the question. And begging the question is a useful technical term. However, I disagree with John’s prediction that the technical usage will prevail. My experience is that the raise the question usage has become vastly more popular in the last ten or so years and has almost completely eliminated the technical usage. I don’t see this changing. I think this one is a lost cause. Personally, I’m not going to give in, though.

I also prefer you’ve got another think coming on the basis that this idiom originates in a witty quote—you’ve got another thing coming is a misquote. Blame Judas Priest.

Generally, I don’t correct people for a supposed “misuse” because I don’t believe there is an authority to which one can appeal other than common usage. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t prefer one usage over another.

14

Keith M Ellis 11.23.08 at 9:05 am

Acronyms are initial letters grouped together and pronounced as words. Initialisms are initial letters grouped together but not pronounced as words.

The distinction is important because while initialisms are ancient, acronyms didn’t exist until recently, contrary to popular belief. (There are some ancient and famous back-formations of acronyms, but that’s not the same thing.)

A common claim in folk etymology is one built around an acronym. For that reason, such claims can almost without exception be judged as necessarily false.

15

David Weman 11.23.08 at 9:15 am

“Still, there’s no good substitute”

Yes there is: questionbegging.

16

Michael Turner 11.23.08 at 11:23 am

supercilious . . . it sounds like “super silly”. When it actually means overly convinced of one’s own superiority and importance.

Well, Roy, if you’d show up here with a sense of humor once in a while, you might notice that I’m almost always trying to be super silly by posing as someone overly convinced of his own superiority and importance. On the Web, you can’t hear anybody laugh, so I don’t know how I’m doing with that.

17

Tom Hurka 11.23.08 at 12:34 pm

John: I think you’re way too optimistic about the future of “beg the question.” I try to tell my students it’s not what Alex Trebek does on Jeopardy (sorry — North American reference) but it’s a losing battle. The other use is already all over the “quality” newspapers.

18

mollymooly 11.23.08 at 1:03 pm

Also use v usage. It is asking for trouble to coin a new word with a slightly different meaning from an old one by adding a vague suffix to the old one.

“Initialisms are initial letters grouped together but not pronounced as words.” So say some. For others, acronyms are a subtype of initialism, the other subtype being called alphabetisms.

19

stuart 11.23.08 at 1:23 pm

So if “begs the question” is going to stop being used in the incorrect version, I suppose all the people on the internet that spell ridiculous “rediculous” are just on the verge of seeing the light after a couple of decades as well? And people will soon start using apostrophes correctly, after all the same logic applies, just to take a couple of random examples.

20

J Thomas 11.23.08 at 1:49 pm

I tend to be slightly ambivalent on the prescriptivism/descriptivism issue. In general, I side with the descriptivists because the prescriptivist view of language is naive and wrong. Yet I argue for some prescriptivist positions on usage when I believe that some utility would be otherwise lost.

I agree. When I try to communicate, I want to talk or write the way the other guy will understand. I use descriptivist thinking because that’s what works. If I’m not sure between two or a few spellings I try them out on google and I use the one that has the most hits unless I really strongly prefer mine and it has more than 10%.

But when I talk with people about how the language ought to work, I’m more interested in what would be useful than in what people do already or what they used to do.

21

Michael Turner 11.23.08 at 2:04 pm

I agree with Tom. I just did a Google News search on “begs the question”. The first instance of anything like the original meaning was in one of those Ask Mr. Grammar Person columns. That’s usually the last stop before the Elephants Graveyard of Usage Prescriptions, if not the graveyard itself. A reader writes in mentioning the most common use these days, then her interpretation (which is also not quite right, but closer, since a circular argument is also a way to avoid the real issue). This appeared on the second page of search results.

I was struck, however, by how much this phrase is (ab)used in sports reporting. Maybe many other journalists avoid the phrase because of a lurking suspicion that they might be using it wrong, but sports reporters feel freer to use English As She Is Spoke?

Curious, I searched Google News archives for 1950-51. Far fewer uses, a high percentage of correct uses, but most of those correct uses had a legal context. Then I did a Google News archive timeline. Look at how rapidly the use of “begs the question” has grown since the mid 1980s.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, it looks like “begs the question” comes from a slightly archaic literal translation of “Petitio Quæsiti”, which might even be a questionable way of putting it in Latin. “Petitio Principii” at least has the virtue of being potentially translated as “reaching (back) to the beginning”. But since we can’t reach back to the beginning and get a better translation, it looks like it’s better just to say “circular argument.” You don’t want people impatiently asking you, “. . . Uh . . . did you just lose your train of thought? What question does it beg?”

I’m reminded of how nobody understands me when I use “positive/negative feedback loop” in its original (technical) meaning. I guess people have heard “positive/negative feedback” for too long in its value-laden sense. If you say “the market plunged, driven by a positive feedback loop as more investors panicked watching it fall,” you just get quizzical stares or accusations of gleefully selling the entire market short. Recently, though, I’ve noticed “adverse feedback loop”, so maybe geeks like me are finally getting to journalists like those. I’d prefer they use “virtuous/vicious circle (or cycle)”.

Unfortunately, I now notice for the first time that “vicious circle” also seems to be another way to express the original “beg the question” (circular reasoning), which has me . . . uh . . . reaching back to the beginning? It certainly raises a lot of questions, anyway. One of which is: how long until people start confusing “circular agument” with “circular firing squad”?

22

dsquared 11.23.08 at 2:19 pm

I find this all rather jéjeune

23

marcel 11.23.08 at 2:49 pm

It would be really cool if the preview that appears below the comment as it is typed in appeared above it: especially for those of us who don’t page all the way to the bottom of the page (hint, hint)!

The comment above should have been:

You have no need to worry on this score, Michael Turner. If any doubts remained about your intent in your 1st post, the correction immediately following clarified that for any obtuse reader.

You, dsquared are not only immature, but are displaying a tendency to the super silly.

24

Righteous Bubba 11.23.08 at 2:53 pm

When I try to communicate, I want to talk or write the way the other guy will understand.

Not using “begs the question” at all is the answer then.

25

Righteous Bubba 11.23.08 at 3:13 pm

God bless the internet, someone has conveniently typed this for me.

===

From Kingsley Amis, The King’s English – A Guide to Modern Usage, 1997

Jejune

If I say this maltreated word has ceased to be current, I can more or less confidently predict, language-users being what they are, its reappearance tomorrow. But I have not come across any fresh uses of ‘jejune’, good, bad or indifferent, since my intended demolition job of 1980. I wrote then that “here was favourite solecism of all time” (still true) and continue to find it highly educative. Accordingly, I now summarise and paraphrase my earlier reconstruction of the word’s progress to enormity.

Stage 1: A writes: “His arguments are unoriginal and jejune” (A knows that ‘jejune’ means ‘thin, unsatisfying’, a rare word, admittedly, but one with a nice ring to it).
Stage 2: B notices the nice ring. He doesn’t know what the word means and, of course, wouldn’t dream of consulting a dictionary even if he possessed one. There is something vaguely French as well as nice about the ring to ‘jejune’; in fact, now he comes to think of it, it reminds him of ‘jeune’, which he knows means ‘young’. Peering at the context, he sees that ‘jejune’ could mean, if not exactly ‘young’, then something like ‘un-grown-up, immature, callow’. Hooray! – he’s always needing words for that, and here’s a new one, one of superior quality, too.
Stage 3: B starts writing stuff like “much of the dialogue is jejune, in fact downright childish.” With the latest edition of OED giving ‘peurile’ as a sense of ‘jejune’, the story might be thought to be over, but there is one further stage.
Stage 4: Having ‘jeune’ in their heads, people who have never seen the word in print start pronouncing ‘jejune’ not as ‘djiJOON’ but ‘zherZHERN’, in the apparent belief that French people always give a tiny stutter when they say ‘jeune’. (I have heard ‘zherZHERN’ several times in the last few years). Finally C takes the inevitable step of writing ‘jejeune’ (I have seen several examples) or even, just that much better: “Although the actual arguments are a little jéjeune, the staging of the mass scenes are {sic} impressive.” Italics in original! – which, with the newly acquired acute accent in place set the seal on the deportation of an English word into French, surely a unique event.

26

John Holbo 11.23.08 at 3:41 pm

I thought maybe there would be something in this post about how no one remembers that ‘pixilated’ – as opposed to ‘pixelated’ – means whimsical or giddy. No such luck, more’s the pity.

27

Adam Kotsko 11.23.08 at 3:44 pm

(although, in this respect they are)

I’m so pedantic that it bothers me to see “although” or other similar words followed by a comma (other than in a parenthetical construction). “Although” introduces a subordinate clause — it is not a free-floating adverb!

28

bianca steele 11.23.08 at 5:00 pm

John,
Can you call it “a lost cause” if everybody knows the word is always used wrong? I’m sure the Internet is increasing the proportion of people who know that.

Is there a word for words/concepts that are used incorrectly more often that not?

And, um, I know I’m surely mistaken about what “methodology” means . . . , but what does it mean?

29

bianca steele 11.23.08 at 5:02 pm

Is there anyone who has heard the word “jejune” spoken aloud anywhere other than a Woody Allen movie or an episode of “Frazier”?

30

Ben Alpers 11.23.08 at 5:42 pm

Accordingly, I now summarise and paraphrase my earlier reconstruction of the word’s progress to enormity.

Which many today would misread as Amis’s claiming that the word had become extremely large.

31

Righteous Bubba 11.23.08 at 5:47 pm

Is there anyone who has heard the word “jejune” spoken aloud anywhere other than a Woody Allen movie or an episode of “Frazier”?

I don’t think so. Clearly others have.

http://rememberingwfb.nationalreview.com/

WFB and National Review were the armored vehicles in which I rode through my college days in the late 60’s. I had WFB’s photo on my bulletin board instead of the Beatles and walked back from Berkeley, Haight-Ashbury, and The Graduate (up the steps of Lone Mountain) to the new issues of National Review. His books I read with a notepad and a dictionary and, subsequently, studded my conversation with the words I picked up—“jejune” was an early favorite. A reading list also emerged, and I found my way to Burke, Hayek and Russell Kirk. I played the 10th anniversary album over and over, particularly WFB’s speech. His reference to the schoolmaster’s warning in Scott-King’s Modern Europe: “I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world”, prompted me to hunt for a vantage point from which to judge modernity on terms other than its own. Finally, WFB pointed me to Ronald Reagan, and I left San Francisco and spent the Spring 1968 term working for RR in the Oregon primary.

I never met WFB, but I “owe him” and shall, therefore, pray for his entry into the “perpetual light.”

32

Righteous Bubba 11.23.08 at 5:54 pm

I don’t think so.

Meaning I haven’t. I chose a fine thread to write bad in.

33

F 11.23.08 at 6:06 pm

How about use vs. utilize. And you’re right that the sciences are especially egregious in their abuse of the word methodology. It drives me nuts. “What do you do? I do methodology. No, you develop methods.”

34

LizardBreath 11.23.08 at 6:21 pm

I thought “pixilated” meant tipsy. In a whimsical and giddy way, perhaps, but definitely having drink taken. But I haven’t looked it up to check,

35

bianca steele 11.23.08 at 6:41 pm

RB,
Finally, WFB pointed me to Ronald Reagan, and I left San Francisco and spent the Spring 1968 term working for RR in the Oregon primary.

Wow. It makes me want to sing “Good Morning, Starshine.” Is it meant to be ironic? I read a lot of Buckley when I was in college (the public library near my parents house had plenty of his less political books). He gives a good workout and I wonder why all the superficially good, nearly airtight arguments so often seem to be only on the right-wing side. But that’s a little over the top.

The guy mentions International Paper, which does seem relevant to a prescriptivism thread. Remember those handouts on grammar and writing they used to put out? I think I got extra credit in English class for sending away for them.

36

Martin Bento 11.23.08 at 7:50 pm

My pet peeve is the application of “literally” to figurative language. It is more a lie than a mistake: the claim that what one is saying is true in the most narrow sense, when it is only true, if at all, in a metaphoric sense. But (1) people learn this from what are presented to them as examples of good writing: the NYT, for example, which is full of statements like “The New York Stock Exchange literally skyrocketed today” – the whole building, eh? Also, I’m sick of “deconstructed” to mean simply refuted, another NYTism (the word does sound like it means “taken apart”, but is the launching point for an attack more on language itself than on any particular utterance). I don’t know that we need that word at all, but if we use it, we should try to stick to its intended (or rather, given by history) abstruse meaning, which means we will not use it much at all, no great loss. Refutation as “deconstruction” is pure pretentiousness – arguably, so is “deconstruction” as deconstruction, but no need to make the pretense contagious.

fn1. OTOH, I am a great defender of beginning sentences with conjunctions. It does suggest two items both related and independent in a way that neither fully separate sentences nor a single sentence would. People fall naturally into this “error” for a reason.

37

Righteous Bubba 11.23.08 at 8:16 pm

My pet peeve is the application of “literally” to figurative language.

I’m guilty of the broader “this word helped emphasize a particular thing once, so it can do it all the time for anything.” It’s unfortunately easy.

My pet peeve is “there’s” for “there are” or “there were”. I can’t stop doing that either, but I can share blame with everyone I know for reinforcing it.

38

Martin Bento 11.23.08 at 8:39 pm

mollymolly wrote:

“Initialisms are initial letters grouped together but not pronounced as words.” So say some. For others, acronyms are a subtype of initialism, the other subtype being called alphabetisms.

So what about items written as initialisms but pronounced as the signified words. For example, I may write “OTOH”, but if I read a post that uses that aloud, I will say “on the other hand”. I don’t know how common this is, since I don’t frequently read internet posts aloud with others, but maybe it’s an interesting question: does anyone actually say either “O-T-O-H” or “O-toe”?

39

Dave2 11.24.08 at 2:48 am

Some are proposing ‘circular reasoning’ as a substitute for ‘begs the question’. But begging the question can be subtler than flat-out circular reasoning.

To beg the question, you needn’t reason in a circle, relying on premises that are identical to or equivalent to your conclusion. You can beg the question merely by relying on premises that only people who already agree with you about the conclusion would ever be tempted to accept as true. Such premises can be quite a ways away from the conclusion, but since they clearly belong to the same dialectical ‘side’ as the conclusion, assuming their truth gets you nowhere.

40

tarylcabot 11.24.08 at 7:22 am

Literally, i can state that i’ve only heard the predominant usage of the phrase ‘begging the question’ – avoiding answering so the question still needs to be asked. did not know there was another meaning and have never heard anyone employing the petitio principii usage. Seems to be strictly a blog deconstruction.

41

Dave 11.24.08 at 11:10 am

NB, on jejunery, and Amis, the link with French is there, but only in parallel. Jejune comes from the Latin ‘to fast’ [go hungry, hence weak and insipid], as does the French jeuner, which gives dejeuner, ‘break-fast’ [now used for lunch, because people didn’t used to eat much in the mornings…]

Fun with etymology, eh?

42

Mark R 11.24.08 at 2:07 pm

I’m prompted by discussion of initialisms and acronyms to ask about the abbreviation OBGYN, used in the U.S. for obstetricians and gynaecologists (well, originally for obstetrics and gynaecology as disciplines I think, but regularly heard now in phrases like “I visited the OBGYN”). It is pronounced “oh-bee-gee-why-enn”, even though it’s formed out of two words where the letters form syllables, and are not initials. Following the pattern of “sitrep” for “situation report” or “satnav” for “satellite navigation” you might expect OBGYN to be said “ob-gine”, but it isn’t. Are there any other abbreviations that are pronounced as if they were initialisms, and is there a word for them? Does anyone know anything about how it came to be?

43

lemuel pitkin 11.24.08 at 5:09 pm

So is there any reason why O for ‘of’ is pronounced (and capitalized) in initialisms for government departments, but not in other initialisms?

44

marcel 11.24.08 at 6:43 pm

While we (and you know who you are) are being petty, snarky &/or pedantic, I thought I’d toss this grenade ad feminam. I suspect that this thread contains other errors, but this one leapt out at me and grabbed my by the throat.

Bianca Steele: Don’t you mean that “the word is always used wrongly”, or perhaps “the word is always incorrectly used”? (and yes, I deliberately placed the question mark outside of the quotation marks, since the whole sentence is a question).

45

marcel 11.24.08 at 6:43 pm

Oops. Close link

46

Righteous Bubba 11.24.08 at 6:47 pm

HTML is a metatypo generator designed to humiliate pedants.

47

micah 11.24.08 at 7:01 pm

Martin: I’ve certainly seen some internet shorthand pronounced as initialisms; BTW and LOL come to mind. I don’t know about OTOH, though.

The only abbreviation I can think of that definitively has the behavior you’re thinking of is “iff”.

48

The Fool 11.24.08 at 8:28 pm

@Zach who said, ‘I hate it when people get up in arms over the “misuse” of the phrase “begging the question” because, while it does have a very specific meaning in the context of debating, the literal meaning of the words has nothing to do with an argument that assumes what needs to be proven.”

Yes it does. A question-begging argument begs by trying to get something for nothing, i.e. a specific conclusion to the very question that is at issue.

49

Martin Bento 11.25.08 at 6:24 am

Micah, interesting. I would pronounce “BTW” as “by the way” – “B-T-W” just sounds stupid to me and actually takes longer to say. Maybe I’m becoming old school.

50

Keith M Ellis 11.25.08 at 9:07 am

“…and yes, I deliberately placed the question mark outside of the quotation marks, since the whole sentence is a question…”

The “punctuation inside the quotation” rule isn’t universal. As far as I know, most of the Commonwealth places the punctuation outside the quote. In my opinion, it’s an exceedingly stupid rule that is both contrary to common sense and prone to creating confusion. I always place the punctuation outside the quote and always expect someone to correct me. No one ever has.

I also expected someone to take issue with my claim that acronyms (defined as initialisms pronounced as words) are very recent and did not exist prior to the twentieth century. Acronyms are so common these days, and they are essential to many folk etymologies, that it’s hard to believe they haven’t always existed and I was very skeptical the first time I heard this claim from a linguist. But it’s true. And it is handy to debunk, prima facie, all folk etymologies that utilize acronyms.

Tarylcabot muses that he “did not know there was another meaning and have never heard anyone employing the petitio principii usage. Seems to be strictly a blog deconstruction.”

That’s odd, because I’ve heard many people use it correctly—and it’s not as if I grew up as a fosterling in a philosophy department or anything like that.

Here’s a completely trivial irritation of mine that is only justifiable by an extreme prescriptivism that I don’t agree with (meaning that I recognize that I’m being irrational about it): perk as a shortening of perquisite. It should be perq, dammit.

51

Dave2 11.25.08 at 1:24 pm

tarylcabot wrote, “Seems to be strictly a blog deconstruction.”

Could you please explain?

52

Brian 11.25.08 at 9:44 pm

@Zach, if you mean that a statement begs for a question to be asked, then perhaps you should use “begs for the question”.

53

bianca steele 11.25.08 at 10:43 pm

Marcel,
I’m not sure what your point is. Is it the apparent contradiction between “never used correctly” in the first paragraph and “rarely used correctly” in the second? The first was mostly a joke, so it doesn’t seem necessary to have been 100% consistent.

Or did I myself commit some error in punctuation?

54

Kaleberg 11.28.08 at 3:38 am

I must hang out with weirdos. I’ve never heard anything but ob-jine for OBGYN, and I often hear people use jejune, frequently correctly. Then again, we have a household apotropaic. Now, if I could just figure out what cravel-built means. The OED is not forthcoming.

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