Humor

Comic2 724

Something that bugs the hell out of me, literally, is the misuse of English. Of course, I was trained as a subeditor in the days when such things mattered even to journalists, so I am a fossilised dinosaur in this respect. I even try to use adverbs correctly. One thing that literally makes my head explode, is the misuse by academics of the phrase “begs the question” to mean “raises a question”.

“Begging the question” is a colloquial translation of the Latin phrase petitio principii, which means to petition the premise of an argument in your conclusion. Whately defines it thus: [it] “takes place when one of the Premisses (whether true or false) is either plainly equivalent to the conclusion, or depends upon that for its own reception.” This is also called “circular reasoning” or “arguing in a vicious circle”.

However, even among the cognoscenti, it has come to mean “raises a question in a context”. For example, I hear commentators say that a particular fact “begs the question why”… and I give an involuntary shudder every time.

Linguistic usage, however, trumps rules of style. Unfortunately, how people use a language determines the meaning of a term or phrase, and if all but a few use it this way, then it has come to mean that. During the transition from the older use to the newer, curmudgeons like me can assert that the new use is an error, but once the tide has washed in, too late. Descriptivism overrules prescriptivism.

But now we need a phrase for the older meaning. It is a basic logical error, and “vicious circle” doesn’t quite capture the mistake. I would suggest that a lot of the work of the older phrase was done by the term “beg”, and that is what changed its overall connotations, leading to the drift in meaning of the phrase. So what is it to “beg” a question? It is to help yourself to something that is not earned (the premise in question). How about we go a little more forcefully, and call it “stealing” the question (like stealing a base in American baseball)? You don’t get there by hitting a ball but by sneaky activity in the background.

Henceforth, all you cognoscenti must call this “stealing the question”, and allow all those logical illiterates to continue to call raising a question “begging the question”. And we purists will continue to vomit a little each time.

1. The world is all that is the taste.

1.1 The world is the totality of flavours, not things.

1.1.1 The world is determined by the totality of flavours, and these being all the flavours.

1.12 For the totality of flavours determines both what is the taste and also all that is not the taste.

1.13 The tastes in experiential space are the world.

1.2 The world divides into individual flavours: sweet, sour, salt and bitter.

1.21 Chocolate is more than the sum of these flavours.

2 What is the taste, the fact, is the existence of elemental flavours.

[The rest is left to the reader to fill out as a personal exercise… should take about a day]

Reader Jeb McLeish has brought to my attention an early attempt to do the metaphysics of chocolate: The Natural History of Chocolate by D. de Quelus (1730):

The Spaniards, who were first acquainted with Chocolate after the Conquest of the new World, have laid it down for an undoubted Truth, that Chocolate is cold and dry, participating of the Nature of Earth. They have supported this Determination neither with Reason nor Experience; nor do they know from whence they learnt it; perhaps they have taken it upon the Words, and from the Tradition of the Inhabitants of the Country. Let that be as it will, it is natural from false Principles to draw false Conclusions, of which the two principal are as follow.

The first is, That Chocolate being by Nature cold, it ought not to be used without being mixed with Spices, which are commonly hot, that so they might, both together, become temperate and wholesome. This was the Jargon and Practice of those Times. For the same Reason the ancient Physicians erroneously imagining that Opium was cold in the fourth Degree, never fail’d to correct this pretended Coldness in their narcotick Compositions, with Drugs extremely hot, as EuphorbiumPellitoryPepper, &c.

Their second Conclusion was, That Chocolate being dry and earthy, and from thence supposed to be of a styptick and astringent Quality; if it was not corrected, must necessarily breed Obstructions in the Viscera, and bring on a Cacochimy, and a great Number of other incurable Diseases.

These Prejudices have from the Spaniards pass’d into other Nations. To prove this, it will be unnecessary to cite a great Number of Authors, for whoever has read one, has read them all, the later having done nothing but copy the former; they have even sometimes improved their Dreams, and exaggerated this pretended Coldness of Chocolate, and at length push’d the Matter so far, as to make it a kind of cold Poison; and if it was taken to Excess, it would bring on a Consumption.

de Quelus is attacking the idea that chocolate is somehow an Aristelian substance, identified by a mixture of wetness, dryness, heat and cold:

It is not very extraordinary that People who are more ready to believe than to examine, (such as the World is full of) should give into the unanimous Opinion of so many Authors; and it would be strange if they were not carry’d down by the Stream of a Prejudice so general. But I cannot sufficiently admire that Chocolate being so much decry’d, has not been entirely laid aside as unfit for Use; without doubt there was nothing but the daily Experience of its good Effects, which could support it, and hinder it from giving way to Calumny.

Now to overturn this old System, it is sufficient, in my Opinion, to observe with how little Skill and Penetration they then treated of the whole Natural History; one ought not to be amazed that they have affirmed Chocolate to be cold and dry, in an Age when, for Example, they could say Camphire was cold and moist, which is a kind of Resin, from whence one Drop of Water cannot be extracted, whose sharp Taste, and penetrating Smell, joined to the extreme Volatility and Inflammability of its Particles, even in Water itself, are such evident Signs of its Heat, that it is difficult to conceive upon what account they persuade themselves of the contrary.

A clever and perceptive man, but he failed to realise that chocolate is greater than the sum of its parts, as revealed before. Chocolate cannot be made of four flavours, humours or elements, since it exceeds the properties of these things.

However, he notes the chocolate was discovered in Mexico in the 1520s, giving us a point at which we can safely say that western history was set on the path to True Endarkenment.

‘What I really like about the English is that they don’t have theories. No Englishman would ever have said, “I think, therefore I am.” Although possibly he might have said, “I think, therefore I am, I think.”‘ [Solomon, from Dodger, by Terry Pratchett, p219]