Oh TV, you have let me down yet again - 1370°C
Nov. 10th, 2005
10:53 am - Oh TV, you have let me down yet again
A few years ago, i nearly wrote a letter to Aaron Sorkin. I was watching the episode of The West Wing where Donna is trying to get the President to issue a proclamation to make a national day for her old school teacher. Of course, that was a silly request, but Bartlett did phone Donna's teacher and chat with her in person. During this conversation, Bartlett asks the teacher, who taught English, whether she taught Beowulf in translation or in the original Middle English. Now, The West Wing is a show considered by many as one of the more intelligent things to ever grace the tube, and President Bartlett has been, in his own fictional world as well as our minds, the bastion of intellectualism in its best form. Yes, a part of me died upon hearing the man for whom i wish i could vote utter those words. What am i on about? Beowulf, as at least a few of you know, was written in Old English. I know this sounds like quibbling; Old, Middle, Modern, Contemporary...whatever, it's all English, right? Not so much.
Chaucer is a pretty good example of Middle English (though some of it is significantly more difficult to read); it looks a bit like this:
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
Stick with me, don't go cross-eyed. Most of the difficulty is just spelling. Read it out loud and pronounce it just as you think it's pronounced, each set of 2 lines rhymes. You recognise many of the words and can get the gist, right? "Spring is springing and people want to go pilgrimaging."
Now. Here's what Beowulf looks like:
Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning!
Right. See my point? I know...some of you can read this just fine (and for the rest of you, "hwæt" is the best word ever, prize to the first person who doesn't know Old English and posts what it means), but learning it is the study of a foreign language. You can see that i was justifiably shocked at The West Wing.
But i let it go because it's a relatively obscure point of contention and of no "real" importance. My faith in shows i believed to be generally intelligent slowly returned.Until last night.
I was watching House, and Hugh Laurie's character used the phrase "begs the question" when he meant something more like "raises the question" or "invites the obvious question." Oh Hugh! Did years of PG Woodehouse teach you nothing?
Now, *lots* of people do this, from Senators to actors to reporters to people i know. It's starting to drive me batty. So, quick lesson.
"Begging the question" is a formal logic term, where "question" means "the issue at hand" and "beg" means "assume" (the confusion is due to the fact that we rarely use "beg" this way any more). Most of the time, begging the question takes the form of circular arguments or ones that simply restate the premise in a slightly different way in the conclusion. Many many proofs for the existence of God come out this way.
"Your live journal sucks because it's awful"
or the more subtle:
"Your live journal cannot be insipid, because you are an interesting person."
This, however, is "raising" the question:
"Your continual live journal entries about how people in your circle of friends are rumour-mongering drama-whores raises the question of whether you have ever engaged in such behaviour yourself."
"Your lack of anything useful to say on your live journal forces me to ask why you keep one at all."
The upshot: if you don't know what "begs the question" means, don't *ever* use it.
Much like the distinction between infer and imply, we need to keep these two things separate. We both need to be able to say that something "raised a question" and combat people's arguments by saying they "begged the question."