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‘Beg the question’ begs for no question

“Summer travel begs the question, ‘Are we there yet?’”

Maybe you have heard that line in a television advertisement that Chrysler-Jeep has been running all summer.

The improper use of “begs the question” upholds a TV tradition of bad grammar that dates back to at least the 1950s, when the American public was told that “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Mose's eighth-grade English teacher literally shuddered at the improper use of “like” when “as” was called for.

Few people realize that cigarette ads were banned from television because they so often employed improper grammar. That might not be true, but it should be.

You will know the use of “beg the question” is wrong if it is followed immediately by a question. The phrase does not mean – at least, it was never intended to mean – to “raise the question,” as the Chrysler ad uses it.

Journalists are among the most frequent violators of “beg the question.”

You can Google “beg the question” for several explanations and examples of proper use. The phrase notes a logical fallacy in a statement that offers only the statement as proof of its truth, e.g., He's stupid because he's really dumb. The proof offered is nothing more than a restatement of the premise.

That statement is said to beg the question.

Chrysler-Jeep's summer ad campaign doesn't stop there in mangling the language. It also touts the Jeep Grand Cherokee as the “most-awarded SUV ever,” without ever saying how many have been awarded or to whom.

Award, as a verb, is a transitive verb that needs an object. “He was awarded a watch at his retirement party.”

He could have been awarded a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but most companies are not that generous.

The TV ad might properly say the Grand Cherokee “has received more awards than any other SUV,” but that's clunky.

Such improper use can be simply fixed by replacing “awarded” with “honored.”

Bad grammar in car ads extends this summer to a commercial about a Mercedes coupe, which is said to have “more” of a lot of features, but “less doors” – than a sedan, presumably. Because you can count the number of doors, “fewer” is the proper adjective, but that throws off the mono-syllabic rhythm of “more this, less that.”

Writing for the ear is fine, but not at the expense of proper usage.

You can get grammatically stupid by watching really dumb ads on television.

That does not beg the question.


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