Beg to differ?

中国日报网 2015-10-23 10:20



Beg to differ?

Reader question:

Please explain “beg to differ” in this sentence: “Mr. President, we beg to differ.” Why “beg”?

My comments:

Beg to differ literally means we beg your pardon; we want to express a different opinion.

If you understand “beg” only in the sense of “First you borrow, then you beg”, I can understand the confusion.

In “beg to differ”, though, as well as “beg your pardon”, there’s no begging in the sense of begging for food and money – no-one’s on their knees. Instead, it’s just a polite way of saying please, we don’t agree.

“Beg to differ” is British in origin, must be. When a language has a long history, it develops a lot of indirect ways of expressing the same ideas. The British are known to be polite and careful with their language; many of them are at any rate. Whereas the Americans are known to be more straightforward and blunt. They like to call a spade a spade. Well, some of them are that way anyway, some of the younger ones especially – well, at least some Americans I know of are like that.

I beg your pardon. I mean to be direct, but I want to be polite also; Therefore, I am choosing my words in order to avoid making sweeping generalizations.

Anyways, I’ve worked with many British and American copy editors in my time. And one generalization I feel I can safely make is that when both the British and Americans are together discussing a certain topic, the British, especially the more experienced and older ones, are always polite with words. If they want to say something in the middle of a conversation, for example, they say something along the line “If I could make a personal remark…”

On one such occasion, one particularly young American journalist grew tired of one such British man and whispered to me: “Nuts!”

We were by and large a friendly group and I understand the American colleague meant no strong offense, he was just thinking along these lines: “Oh, come on. Cut the crap. Just speak your mind for of course you can make a personal remark.”

Anyways, we beg to differ is just a polite way of saying: “Nonsense! We disagree!”


All right, media examples:

1. Conservatives believed they were winning.

“He is standing solidly with Israel,” Majority Whip Tom DeLay said on Wednesday. “He is resisting the constant calls to force Israel back to the negotiating table where they will be pressured to grant concessions to terrorists.”

But there was an influential voice on the other side.

“I am prepared to go anywhere, anytime when it serves a useful purpose,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday.

On Monday, when President Bush refused to ostracize Yasser Arafat, conservatives began to worry. But Powell begged to differ.

“Chairman Arafat still has a legitimate role within the Palestinian movement, and we think at this point, it's best to deal with him in that role,” he said.

The conservatives warned the president, “It is critical that negotiations not be the product of terrorism or conducted under the threat of terrorist attack.”

Powell again begged to differ, in an interview Wednesday night on CBS News “60 Minutes II.”

“The Palestinian people have to see that there is a political process -- and not just a cease-fire and security process,” he said. “A political process that we will get involved in early on, through negotiations, which will lead quickly to a Palestinian state.”

- Powell begs to differ, and has the world on his side,, April 5, 2002.

2. Police say it didn’t take them long to locate an Idaho man suspected in the robbery of a Cedars Inn — he was next door at The Alibi bar.

Lewiston police say 40-year-old Donald Mosley Jr. was arrested less than 15 minutes after he walked into the hotel and demanded cash from the desk clerk late Wednesday.

Police found Mosley at The Alibi, a bar located next to the hotel, allegedly with evidence of the robbery on him. Mosley was booked into the Nez Perce County Jail early Thursday and faces possible felony robbery charges.

It was unclear Thursday whether Mosley had hired an attorney. Various state and county offices were closed in observance of Veterans Day.

The Lewiston Tribune reports that Mosley is no stranger to Lewiston police.

The police say Mosley, apparently intoxicated, knocked on a fire station door the night of Oct. 28 and asked for a cup of coffee, the Tribune reports. After he was asked to leave — sans coffee — police say he walked to a nearby Dairy Queen, called 911 and reported a fire at his apartment.

He denied making the call, the Tribune reports, but a 911 dispatcher and two eyewitnesses begged to differ.

The coffee-and-911 escapade came just four weeks after Mosley got out of prison after serving his sentence for stealing an idling ambulance and leading police on a low-speed chase from Lewiston Orchards to Culdesac, threatening his pursuers with dynamite along the way.

- Holed up in The Alibi, no alibi would hold up,, November 11, 2010.

3. Earlier this year, about 7,000 Seattlites participated in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally.

On Tuesday, people are marking the 50th anniversary of the day Martin Luther King, Jr. began writing his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” with public readings of the letter around the globe, including libraries, museums, schools, universities, churches, synagogues, temples, work places, public parks, bookstores, coffee shops and street corners.

You can read King’s “Letter” here. Every time I have read it I have come away in awe of its vast trajectory across the globe and across the span of history, condensing civil disobedience efforts from biblical times up to the moment King began pressing pen to paper.

King was not just a powerful orator, the civil rights leader was a good writer. He begins the letter by politely begging to differ with critics, men he notes “are of good will.” By the letter’s end, the thunder of King’s anger and dismay over the impacts of racism reverberates on the page.

When it comes to ensuring his children and other children of color grow up in a world where they are treated more justly than their parents, King argues in one of the most powerful pieces of correspondence ever, why he declines to wait.

- Today the world reads from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, by Lynne K. Warner,, April 16, 2013.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)



















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