November 21st, 2007
Deja vu all over again / persuade and convince / the with organizations' names
by Barbara Wallraff
Gary McMahan, of Royal Oak, Mich., writes: “An expression I hear a lot is ‘It’s déjà vu all over again.’ Isn’t that redundant? I hear it from people I would think know that, but maybe I’m wrong? Please settle this word puzzle for me.”
Dear Gary: Finally -- a baseball-related question I can answer right off the bat! That’s a Yogi-ism, named after Yogi Berra. Berra is, of course, famous for his career as a catcher with the New York Yankees, but he’s also known for his way with words. Supposedly, he said lots of entertainingly redundant or oxymoronic things. Other examples are: “You can observe a lot by watching,” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded!” about a restaurant, and “90 percent of the game is mental, the other half is physical” about baseball.
Kathryn W. Grover, of Sedgwick, Maine, writes: “I believe there is not a great difference in meaning between ‘persuade’ and ‘convince,’ but shouldn’t there be a difference in sentence structure? I cringe whenever I hear or read ‘I convinced him to do something.’ Shouldn’t it be ‘I convinced him that he should do something’ or ‘I persuaded him to do whatever’?”
Dear Kathryn: You’re right, though to be honest, I’ve always had trouble keeping “persuade” and “convince” straight. Of the two words, “convince” is the tricky one. In strict usage, being “convinced” is purely mental -- the result is a frame of mind. So a person can be convinced “of” something or, as you say, he can be convinced “that” something must be done. But being convinced “to” do something brings action into it -- so this wording contradicts the “frame of mind” idea. Being “persuaded” may or may not involve action. We can be persuaded “of,” persuaded “that” and also persuaded “to.”
Liz Alexander, of Marina del Rey, Calif., writes: “When should we use the article ‘the’ with names of universities, colleges and hospitals? Is it ‘the Boston Medical Center’ or just ‘Boston Medical Center’?”
Dear Liz: Nightmarishly for those of us who care about these things, it’s correct to use “the” when and only when the organization itself uses “the.” So when you’re in the middle of a conversation about an organization you’re not very familiar with, there’s no way to know the right way to refer to it. Say it the same way as the person you’re talking with, and you won’t get any complaints.
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