Make Your Editor Cry: Beg(s) vs. Beggars

Make Your Editor Cry:  Beg(s) vs. Beggars

The rarely used verb beggar means to reduce to poverty, or the practice of asking for charity. You beggar people by impoverishing them, thus reducing them to beggary. The word “beggar” chiefly survives in modern English either in certain Biblical translations or in metaphorical expressions such as “[something] beggars belief” which Webster caveats as British and defines as “to be unbelievable or not deserving to be believed.” Also, to “beggar description,” which Webster also caveats as British, is used to talk about something that is very difficult to describe.

People who aren’t familiar with this meaning of the word “beggar” often substitute “beg,” or “begs,” with expressions along the lines of “[something] begs belief” or “begs description,” which, without going too far into why it is the case, is, you know, wrong. In fact, it’s almost but not quite as wrong as using the phrase “begs the question” in any sense outside of describing a logical fallacy.

Examples:

Incorrect:

Natasha and Boris hatched a plot so complex that it begged description.
It almost begs belief that anyone could be so cruel.

Correct:

Natasha and Boris hatched a plot so complex that it beggars description.
It almost beggars belief that anyone could be so cruel.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What is 3 + 2 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)