The formal definition of "beg the question" is a logical fallacy in which the initial assumption of a statement is treated as fact without offering any logic as to why the statement is true in the first place. It does not mean "raise the question".

This is a two part question

1) If I take the definition of beg as being to ask earnestly, then a statement which immediately raises or demands a followup question would be begging. Is there a grammatical reason why this is an incorrect use?

2) The usual answer to question 1 is to cite the definition and its use as a logical fallacy and then state that it does not mean to "raise the question". Is this itself not a logical fallacy, and thus does such an answer not beg the question?

  • It's usually a near certainty that "begs the question" is used incorrectly. – Hot Licks May 16 '15 at 3:05
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    "beg the question" is an idiom. it's just that simple. (check the meaning of idiom in a dictionary.) note that, as you suggest, it's completely normal - when you are, say, being humorous, or for other effect - to use an idiom in some more literal way. Indeed I believe I once heard someone say: "Let me then, if you will, beg another question of you..." (this was after he had used "beg the question" in the normal idiomatic way) .. you see? – Fattie May 16 '15 at 3:07
  • It is silly to vote this question down: it's really quite interesting. – Fattie May 16 '15 at 3:09

Here's the thing: using "beg the question" as an alternative to "raise the question" could be correct, but only if language and grammar consisted entirely of the addition of the literal values of words (aka: looking at each word and its meaning, they are the same). However, language contains a number of pre-set combinations of words whose meanings are different from the individual words — in this case, "beg the question." What that means is that "beg the question" should be taken like a singular unit of meaning, with the only meaning being the logical fallacy.

  • Yes, but all you had to type was "it is an idiom" :) – Fattie May 16 '15 at 3:09
  • I've been paying too much attention in my philosophy and language class :) – user121812 May 16 '15 at 3:09
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    I admire your epistemological nonconcisity. – Fattie May 16 '15 at 3:11
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    Just FTR Scotty, here is the definition of idiom, as people often fuck it up on this site "a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light)." {it's true that the idiomatic phrase at hand is not as obscure, metaphorical, as some other idiomatic phrases, but it's an idiom, i.e. "a group of words established by usage as having a [certain] meaning".} – Fattie May 16 '15 at 3:14

This is an issue of semantics and usage, not grammar. It is perfectly grammatical to use "beg the question" anywhere you could use any other present-tense verb phrase. For instance, it would be grammatically correct to use "beg the question" to mean "sit down".

As the students entered the classroom, the teacher told them to beg the question in their assigned seats.

This would not be effective communication, however.

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