Mike Kueber's Blog

April 29, 2012

Cliches that are almost always misused – begging the question and a slippery slope

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 6:33 pm

I recently blogged about my love of Bryan Garner’s books on usage.  Although the books are stuffed with great writing and ever greater insights, some stand out.  My favorite Garner entry can be found in A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, and the entry is titled “begging the question”:

  • “Begging the question” does mean evading the issue or inviting the obvious questions, as some mistakenly believe.  (In my opinion, virtually all believe this.)  The proper meaning of begging the question is basing a conclusion on an assumption that is as much in need of proof or demonstration as the conclusion itself.

While on the subject of clichés that are almost always misused, my mind drifted to “slippery slope.”  I had previously read an explanation of the cliché that was devastating, and I was disappointed to see that Garner wasn’t the author.  Garner’s description of the cliché is not particularly insightful – “a once-clever metaphor – a way of saying that if we take the first step there will be no stopping.”  Then I remembered that I previously blogged about slippery slopes.  The essence of that posting was that the concept of a slippery slope was sometimes categorized as an informal fallacy because it was often not true.  However, my posting did quote extensively from Eugene Volokh, who provided an example of a situation where the possibility of stopping at a middle ground was indeed highly unlikely.

The problem with usage books is that they are so interesting that you get distracted from what you were intending to do.

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