‘Incredibly convincing’

The other day, pondering some of the absurdities in English, it occurred to me that the expression ‘incredibly convincing’ is a contradiction in terms. If something is convincing, it must be credible.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

9 thoughts on “‘Incredibly convincing’”

  1. It is a contradiction in terms only if you ignore the slang meaning of “incredible” which is “very.”

  2. Yet in this case, “incredibly” does not necessarily describe the kind of convincing, but the degree to which it is convincing. Hence something can be convincing to such a high degree that one is surprised and finds it difficult to believe just how convinced one has become.

  3. It is not a contradiction, any more than it is a contradiction to say “I believe that I believe that X”, or “I do not believe that I believe that X”. We have second order attitudes about our first order beliefs all the time. In this case, we have the second order attitude of a feeling of incredulity with regards to having experienced how convincing something is.

  4. Maybe I am being excessively pedantic.

    Still, I think it is sad when people forget the specific meanings of words and just turn them into vague synonyms for one another.

  5. On the contrary, I think Tristan and I are saying that you are not being pedantic enough! ;-)

    Though I agree about the flattening of words into fewer meanings. It is double plus bad.

  6. I agree with Byron. And actually, I think I can be even more pedantic – the feeling of incredulity is not incompatible with feeling something to be credible. This is because we bear complex emotions towards things – we can at the same time be astounded by something, it can appear too amazing to be true – i.e. incredulous. And at the same time, we can be completely convinced.

    In fact, this is probably related to how Plato thought about philosophy – as a form of human cognition profoundly motivated by wonder, ‘thaumazein’.

    I of course agree that the flattening of words into fewer meanings is bad. But, I actually think that saying “incredibly convincing” is a contradiction is, unfortunately, true only given a flattening of the meanings of the terms credibility and incredulity.

    I am not opposed to flux in the meanings of words – in fact I think that sometimes words retain their vitality only if they are constantly changing in meaning. The world is always changing, and, at least some of the time, words that do not change with it become anachronistic, harsh, and inappropriate.

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