‘Incredibly convincing’

2010-12-03

in Rants, Writing

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.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt December 3, 2010 at 6:34 pm

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

Matt December 3, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I should have said “incredibly.”

Byron Smith December 3, 2010 at 8:51 pm

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.

oleh December 4, 2010 at 4:40 am

That is “patently obvious”

Tristan December 4, 2010 at 10:49 am

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.

Milan December 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm

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.

Byron Smith December 5, 2010 at 12:21 pm

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.

Tristan December 5, 2010 at 1:43 pm

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.

Milan December 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

By using blog posts to condemn problematic language use, I think we can ensure that the situation will improve.

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