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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.

It’s impossible to know whether those are all actual quotes. Berra just tossed such things off in conversation, rather than writing them down. Therefore, any witticism of this general type tends to be called a Yogi-ism. Here’s one last Yogi-ism, which apparently has been verified as coming from Berra: “I never said half the things I really said.”

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.

When you really need to be correct, the Internet is your best friend. Google “Boston Medical Center” and go to its Web site, and you’ll see immediately that the hospital doesn’t use “the” with its name -- it’s “Boston Medical Center.” Sometimes you’ll find both versions, even on the organization’s own materials. Google “Cleveland Clinic” and you’ll see what I mean. In that case, go with the one it uses more. That would be “Cleveland Clinic,” without “the.”

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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