Friday, March 24, 2006

Grammar Nazi

I've been working in or studying journalism for the past seven years or so. Courses in copy editing, AP style, and the task of having to edit material for publication has left me with a bit of a psychosis when it comes to spelling and grammar. Basically, I can't stand it when it gets screwed up.

For instance, the Applebee's right outside post has one of those changeable signs out front -- sort of like the kind you see in front of gas stations advertising their "low" cigarette prices. The Applebee's sign, for about a month, had a misspelling in its advertisement for baby back rib specials. I didn't eat there the whole time the error remained on the board. It's not that I made a conscious decision not to, I would just get angry when I saw the mistake and keep driving.

There are at least two issues that are making me feel the same way today.

First: Does anyone still think that playful misspellings in the names of stores or products are still cute or fun? Why call something "Kidz Korner" or "Kwik Wash"? What's the message you're trying to send? Are these places run by illiterates? If that's the case, I don't want to trust my car's paint job or my (as yet non-existent) child's mind to them. Or maybe they're appealing to an illiterate clientele. In that case, I guess I'll still be taking my business elsewhere.

Second: Why do people -- particularly journalists -- insist on constantly misusing the phrase "begs the question"? Begging the question, or petitio principii in Latin, is a logical fallacy defined by Aristotle in which a proposition is assumed to be true in a proof of the same proposition. Here's a simple example:

"Paul is dumb because he is stupid."

But the phrase "beg the question" is now being constantly used to mean "raise the question" or "demands that this additional question be addressed," as in, "Republicans voted to raise the deficit ceiling, which begs the question, how are we ever going to pay the national debt back?"

Some people liberally sprinkle their speech with Latin or French phrases (anyone who says vis-a-vis is intentionally trying to sound smarter than they are) in order to appear more educated, and I believe using "beg the question" is a sort of "light" version of the same. The trouble is, when you use it incorrectly, you don't sound smarter, you sound like an ignorant troll. Stop it.


UPDATE: For more great info on begging the question and proper usage of the phrase, visit, where you can find these handy-dandy cards to cut out and give to people who screw it up.