The word nerd rides again

20 thoughts on “The word nerd rides again”

  1. I’ve always assumed that “begs the question” refers to a statement that carries with it a premise of questionable merit. To invest this phrase with more complexity than that is, I think, to invite confusion and controversy. Imagine two Valley Girls grappling with this. OMG!

    I can accept both Lindsay Lohan examples as meaningful because the premise of the statement in each case is questioned by the phrase. Nevertheless, I enjoyed your examples and essay. Any discussion of circular logic has to be healthy when there’s so much of it flying around! 🙂

    1. It does get very complex. As long as “begs the question” isn’t used to mean “raises the question” or “begs that the question be asked,” I try not to worry about it. (Old editors die hard.) I really got into the briar patch on this when I came across a piece explaining that Descartes’s famous “I think therefore I am” is an example of begging the question. Oy vey.

  2. I wandered into similar territory last week with a headline I used on a letter, which included the phrase “just deserts.” Several people told me that I was just wrong … sheesh. Now I’m using that in my column/blog post this week, and hoping not to sound too grammar-snobby.
    With all this misuse, one day we’ll have no idea what any of these idioms mean or how they’re spelled. Please let me die before then,

  3. Interesting – never knew this. The thing that drives me crazy is the use of the word literally – “I literally mean that.” “That’s like literally true.” That literally makes me want to put my head in the oven. 🙂

    1. I almost mentioned the literally/figuratively thing as an outstanding example of how language, if misused often enough, eventually becomes accepted. It figuratively drives me crazy.

  4. This phrase strikes me as similar to another, i.e. “the exception that proves the rule,” or “the proof of the pudding.” In each case a word used in the English of a few generations back has shifted meaning, so that the common colloquial phrases that employ those words become meaningless over time.

    I agree it’s probably futile to try to stop the tide of changing language usage but perhaps all the more so in phrases of this sort, where “beg” and “proof” no longer mean what they used to. (The old meaning of proof survives also in “printer’s proof,” doesn’t it?)

    1. Well, I’ve just learned something new. My understanding of “the proof of the pudding” has been essentially correct all these years. But I always thought “the exception that proves the rule” sounded nonsensical, as though someone had mangled some other expression — and I always let it pass without questioning it or looking it up. Until now. Now I know. Thanks. And yes, “printer’s proof” is certainly related.

  5. Thanks for the excellent distinction between ‘begs the question’ and ‘raises or poses the question.’ My alter-ego, Dr. Language Guy, approves highly of the Word Nerd.

    My favorite misused phrase is ‘falls between the cracks.’ If something falls between the cracks, then it falls on the ground. What we mean to say is ‘falls into a crack.’

    1. Or “falls through the cracks.” I hear “falls between the cracks” all the time and I cringe every time. If people would just think about what they’re saying, they’d realize falling between the cracks is a physical impossibility.

... and that's my two cents