OK. So, it’s been over 2 years since I’ve posted a Pet Peeves segment. (Here’s the first one, and the second one.) I suppose that not following through with promises to post pet peeves can also be a pet peeve. But, I’ve got pet peeves number 6 and 7 ready to go.
6. Using “begs the questions” when you really mean “raises the question.”
I’m sure you’ve heard something like this:
“We need border security now to stop illegal aliens from crossing our border.”
“What should we need to do about it?”
“We need to build a wall on the southern border.”
“Well, that begs the question of who’s going to pay for it.”
Someone gets a thought and, to further the discussion, he blurts out “that begs the question.” But, he doesn’t mean that the preceding point “begs” the question. What he is trying to say is “you are begging me to ask this next question.” Using “begs to question” to mean “raises the question” is a misuse of the phrase. Accusing someone of begging the question is actually to point out that he is making a logical fallacy. He is assuming the truth of his conclusion in his premise without providing support other than his assertion. Here is an example of “begging the question.” Chocolate is healthy because it is good for you. The truth of the conclusion (Chocolate is healthy) is assumed true in the premise (Chocolate is good for you). Saying “Chocolate is good for you” is just another way of saying “Chocolate is healthy.” The assertion has no support for its conclusion. (Asking “Well, who’s going to pay for the chocolate?” is not an example of “begging the question.”)
Recently I pointed out that someone was “begging the question” in an online debate. Christian apologist, Frank Turek, asked the question “Can natural laws explain reality?” A person commented “‘Natural Laws’ seems (sic) pretty axiomatic, no? If they didn’t describe nature, we wouldn’t have them, yes?” I responded “That’s begging the question: ‘Natural laws explain reality because we use them to explain reality, otherwise we wouldn’t use them’ is essentially what you’re saying. You are assuming the conclusion is true in your premise.”
The person assumed natural laws explained reality when he suggested that natural laws are used to explain reality. “We use natural laws to explain reality, and they explain reality because we use them.” Begging the question is a form of circular reasoning.
The problem with “begging the question” in sharing the Gospel is that Christians assume the premise “The Bible is God’s Word” is true, and then prove it to be true by pointing out that the Bible says it’s God’s Word. A skeptic is right to point out the circular nature of that Christian’s argument. You have to give support as to why you believe the Bible is a good witness and why the contents of the Bible are true. Appealing to “Because God said so” is unpersuasive and begs the question. There are reasons why Scripture is reliable and trustworthy. We need to offer those answers instead of the lazy “Because God said so.”
So, now that you know how that phrase is to be used properly, when someone says “That begs the question” you can ask him which one of your premises assumes the conclusion is true.
7. “Chomping at the bit.”
Another phrase that is like nails on a chalkboard to me is “chomping at the bit.” The phrase creates an image of sloppy mastication, as much as it stems from sloppy articulation. Most dictionaries seem to define “chomp” and “champ” synonymously, but “chomp” usually indicates chewing food in order to swallow it for digestion, or simply to bite down on something. Champing does not usually imply chewing and swallowing food, or biting, but the grinding of the teeth. I think this treatment of these different words, champ and chomp, as similar is an indictment on the intellectual redcutionism of the English speaking culture, but that is another pet peeve that will have to wait for some other time. I think society is better served if our language doesn’t devolve into reducing everything to its commonality. We lose nuance and the ability to accurately articulate our meaning.
The idiom “champing at the bit” comes from horse racing. A bit is placed in a horse’s mouth and is attached to the bridle in order to control the horse. Because a bit is placed in the part of a horse’s mouth where there is a void in teeth, a horse does not naturally “chomp” on it, meaning that it does not bite the bit. When a horse gets nervous, it grinds its teeth. To champ at the bit, literally, a horse grinds its teeth on the bit. This idiom arose from horse racing where horses were seen nervously grinding their teeth in anticipation of the race. Horses may “chomp” on the bit out of annoyance, but they champ at the bit out of anticipation. It is this sense of anticipation that the idiom “champing at the bit” is conveying.
People usually understand “chomping at the bit” to be the same as “champing at the bit.” (Although, I presume that few people actually heard it expressed “champing at the bit.”) But, saying “champing” is more precise and, I think, more eloquent.