The little things: powers of persuasion

It has happened. I knew it would. This week, the ghastly thing that is my midterm paper is preventing me from going off on my typical weekly grammar rant. Instead, I leave the privilege to my night editor, Alex Wolinsky. I will leave my readers, however, with a suggested reading for those who want to improve their knowledge of grammar. “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White is by far the best grammar bible I have ever come across, and I strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in writing. It is straightforward, concise and (in my opinion, at least) just plain awesome. Happy reading, and I’ll see you next week!

 

Hello, readers. Josie easily convinced me that this series is an important part of the copy blog. As such, I persuaded myself to write this week’s post.

For pedants (including, since last week, myself), the verbs in the previous paragraph are not interchangeable. Indeed, as I learned while studying for an internship application’s copy editing test, “convince” and “persuade” have distinct and, while admittedly frequently related, disparate meanings.

“Convince” should be used in the context of changing one’s beliefs: She convinced him that comma use did in fact matter.

“Persuade” is used in the case of a change of action: She persuaded him to use commas properly.

Straightforward enough, no? Here’s a more complex example: She persuaded him to convince others that correct comma use mattered, and he launched a campaign to convince English teachers that persuading students to punctuate properly is imperative.

“Convince” and “persuade” aside, that’s a pretty terrible sentence, but it illustrates the point.

As noted above, I learned this distinction only last week, and, frankly, it momentarily threw my world off its axis. Had I truly been using these words interchangeably — and thus incorrectly — throughout my life? According to descriptive linguistics, I have not, as that perspective simply suggests that what is used is “proper” or, more accurately, that nothing is objectively correct.

As a copy editor, however, I cannot take comfort in this and must face my error-riddled past. As a result of the copy editing test, I have been persuaded to change my usage habits, and I hope to convince others that the difference between these words — at least in formal writing — is significant indeed.