Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Persuade versus Convince: It's Not Just a Matter of Degree

Today’s snippet is the difference between persuade and convince, which at first sniff might appear to be virtually synonymic, but whose proper usages differ.

A good way to get a comfortable hold on these two rascals is to know that you’ll never be convinced if you won’t be persuaded, while you can be persuaded without being convinced: though not convinced it was a good idea, Bill was persuaded to try LSD.

One element of convincing is helping someone arrive at a conclusion as a result of evidence. That is not to say you can’t be convinced on flimsy evidence. Any one person’s certainty is never a marker of absolute veracity, so in order to be convinced, one need not be even remotely correct. Still, after a good round of hearty convincing, the convinced is in a state of unshakable assuredness.

Persuasion is a softer science. It is an appeal to reason, to a higher sense of mind and being. The persuader perceives herself as having achieved an understanding that would be beneficial to others, and she shares her vision of how to reach this state of opinion, activity or consciousness. It is a process of seduction, this persuading, an importuning that presumes your desire for personal betterment and presents the upside of a preferred decision or personal disposition.

Persuaded can be used euphemistically to describe torture or intimidation through the rhetorical device of understatement. You could say, “Skinny Joey persuaded the guy to pay up by mailing him a human finger.” However, if you were to say, “Skinny Joey convinced the guy to pay up by mailing him a human finger,” the element of rhetorical understatement is gone, and it becomes merely a statement of fact.