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News You Don't Say

Allow me to convince you, AP Stylebook

In what should be a cautionary example of being careful what you ask for, the Associated Press Stylebook has tweeted an invitation to identify what people like and dislike in the new edition.

The Lord has delivered them into my hands. 

When I first picked up my copy of the 2014 edition, it fell open to the page bearing the convince, persuade entry. You know, you may be convinced that or convinced of but you must be persuaded to. (Persuaded can also take that, Garner's Modern American Usage points out, but let that pass.) 

To an extent, I am with the AP editors on this. I am convinced of the importance of editing, and I can be, with very little effort, persuaded to hold forth on the subject at length. And I, too, attempted for a long time to main a distinction of meaning: that convince is a stronger word than persuade because I can be persuaded to do something even if I am not convinced of its wisdom. But that never got any traction. 

It's the implicit prohibition on convince to that is a crotchet ripe for interment. 

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage offers insights into the historical reasons that people insisted on a distinction. To be convinced, the argument goes, is to hold a mental acceptance, while to be persuaded is to be moved into action. 

If you find this distinction gossamer, you are part of a very large crowd of speakers and writers of English. MWDEU finds that mental acceptance followed by action, represented by the construction convince to, has become increasingly common from the second half of the twentieth century to the present. 

In fact, anyone willing to rummage about in the Corpus of Contemporary American English can find instances of convince to and convinced to cited from the American Scholar, Foreign Affairs, the Georgia Historical Quarterly, the Middle East Quarterly, the Christian Science Monitor, the PBS News Hour, and [cough] the Associated Press. 

MWDEU dates from 1994. Twenty years ago. Even though the AP Stylebook will be a little late to the party on convince, persuade, consider this an invitation. 



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