Globe public editor: If The Globe was perfect, we’d never beg the question
The headline above was on my column on grammatical mistakes that appeared in Saturday’s Focus section.
It was penned by a very clever editor, Victor Dwyer: a wordsmith, writer and, if I may say, grammar nerd with a great sense of humour.
Not surprisingly, many Globe readers were in on the joke.
One reader from Winnipeg wrote: “If the Globe WERE Perfect …?” Then, just four minutes later, “Duh! Got it … now.”
One woman wrote: “I had to laugh when I saw ‘If the Globe was perfect,’ and wondered if it were a test! Of course it should be ‘If the Globe were perfect.’ … I’m assuming someone else writes your headlines, otherwise you would have caught this instantly!”
Here’s another long-time subscriber: “I read your article with a smile as I reflected on the title ‘If The Globe was perfect, we’d never beg the question.’ Upon further reflection, I and maybe several others may have thought that you were ‘pulling our leg’ with the intended misuse of the word in the title … as per your paragraph entitled ‘Verb tenses.’ ”
And perhaps ironically, in a column about grammatical errors, an editor double-checking Victor’s headline before we went to press also had sent him an e-mail wondering about his use of the indicative mood where the subjunctive was clearly called for. “Sometimes,” Victor later told me, “it’s not easy getting grammar mistakes into The Globe!”
Victor also managed to slide another of his grammatical pet peeves into the headline: “begging the question.”
“During a public talk at the Banff Centre last summer, I delivered an entire tirade about the misuse of this phrase,” he has since told me, and then elaborated a bit further:
“My main complaint with using ‘beg the question’ to mean ‘introduce the question’ is not so much any particular misuse per se, bothersome as those are.
“It instead has to do with the fact that, through people’s repeated misuse of the phrase, it is in fact coming to mean ‘introduce the question’ or ‘raise the question’ in the public consciousness, which in turn means that the original meaning of the phrase (a phrase, by the way, long beloved by enterprising reporters) is being shunted aside, destined for the dustbin of linguistic history. ‘To beg the question’ has always meant, to quote Theodore Bernstein, one-time assistant managing editor of The New York Times and a man who railed against the erosion of good grammar as far back as the 1930s, ‘to base a conclusion on a premise that needs proof as much as the conclusion does … to assume as true the very point that is under discussion.’
To continue reading this column, please go to theglobeandmail.com where it was originally published.