Did you know that to beg a question is not to beg it, at least in our sense of the word? I learned that the other day from a 2010 “Common Errors in English Usage” calendar that has lain open to the May 15 entry on Baylis Greene’s desk for 19 months now, begging to be perused.
The speaker who begged a question formerly was apparently taking what he assumed as fact, without offering any proof, as in “anyone can tell the painting is trash because it is obviously worthless.” Trusting in his own invincible surmise then, the speaker was of a settled opinion, not open to debate or further inquiry. I beg leave to say that it sounds to me like a columnist’s solemn creed!
But seriously, the thing about proper usage is that we journalists would never write anything were our feet held to the fire so. One must march on (stealing a march on our fellows, come to think of it, often has us walking on air!) mixing metaphors as we go — as in, “You town board members have jumped to conclusions and are burying your heads in the sand!” Somebody actually said that once, or very close to it, at a town board meeting here. I forget, of course, which question it was that went begging.
A little metaphoric license, rather than prosaic sobriety, is often the better way to go. Must every problem be solved? Americans seem to think so, though I am mindful that the great poet Pablo Neruda said, at the end of his great poem “Peace”: “I don’t want to solve anything / I came here to sing and so that you would sing with me.”
Jumping to conclusions has often led to heavy-handed efforts at solutions that have let 100 other problems bloom. It makes you want to bury your head in the sand — to want at times not to bury your head in The Times!
Away with all arbiters then, the myopic deciders who would let questions go begging (whether in the old or new sense), and up with the fraternally minded — the truly farsighted — who, whether invited to or not, follow up. I beg of you.
The defacing with swastikas — universal symbols of genocidal hatred and mass murder — of a photo of our high school’s county championship boys soccer team last month can hardly be viewed as a mere prank. That the soccer players were largely Latino further exacerbated the situation.
In retrospect, the administration would have been wiser to have turned the matter over for investigation to the police right away rather than to have closely questioned the players on the boys volleyball team, which also had used the locker room the day the photo was defaced.
One can sympathize with the angry parents, who learned of their sons’ questioning sometime later, and who viewed it as a witch hunt (a charge buoyed by the fact that the police investigation was to exonerate the volleyball players, who went on to win the county volleyball coaches’ sportsmanship award), while keeping in mind at the same time that the offense necessitated a timely response and the general airing by counselors that it reportedly received.
Not only the vandals (my wife suggested they be made to read “The Book Thief”) but their fellow students, however unoffending, should be made to understand why what the three did, however blithely, was wrong.