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Words March 24

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“The former Republican justice of the peace from West Little Rock was stirred by American soldiers’ bravery in helping Iraqis vote.” Is he formerly a Republican, formerly a justice of the peace, or formerly both? A full reading of the article suggests that he’s still a Republican, but no longer a j.p. That could have been made clear by writing “The Republican former justice of the peace … ” A letter to the editor of the Little Rock daily said, “I mean absolutely no disrespect for American International College basketball stars, past or present, but the level they play at is not major college, and it is very hard for me to understand how any of them can be admitted to the [Arkansas] Hall of Fame ahead of Jim Reed.” I suspect that the correspondent wrote “AIC basketball stars,” and some editor who didn’t understand the reference changed it to “American International College.” There are no American International College stars in the Arkansas Hall of Fame. A number of the Hall’s members played in the old Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference. I’ve just about given up trying to preserve the real meaning of begging the question, but Susan A. Newbery of Little Rock hasn’t, and she makes the case better than I do anyway: “It irritates me when begging the question is used to mean that a statement draws attention to a particular need or question, e.g., ‘The presence of so many children at the event begs the question, “Why would parents let kids attend such a thing?” ’ “When I took a course in logic years ago, I was taught that begging the question was a logical fallacy wherein the conclusion to be drawn was contained in the premise. I heard a good example on TV recently when a man said, ‘Ghosts exist because I’ve seen them.’ The fallacy was also called ‘circular reasoning.’ ” “A number of child abuse scandals involving priests in Ireland has further eroded the moral authority of the church.” Has or have? According to the Cambridge Guide to English Usage, it should be have in this case. The Guide says that if number of is preceded by the, the verb is singular. If preceded by a, the verb is plural.

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