Monday, October 15, 2007

Suasion v. Persuasion

Here's another archival post of mine.

Suasion. I remember this word raising my hackles a couple of years ago when it was the wotd on DD. Merriam-Webster defines both "suasion" and "persuasion" as "the act of persuading". Now, normally, I would reiterate that there are no true synonyms and distinguish the etymologies on each, except the etymologies are a little fuzzy. Suasion says it comes from Latin "suadere" for "persuasion" or "to advise", while persuasion says it comes from--wait for it--"per" and "suasion",so these are unhelpful. The mere addition of the "per" meaning through, doesn't add anything to the etymology or the meaning. Persuasion does not really mean through suasion, because the definition of suasion is backward to that construction. Suasion means through persuasion and therefore should actually be "perpersuasion" (Or do the “per”s cancel?) So, I think we have an issue of lazy usage being justified retroactively, since these words both originated in the late Middle Ages, c. 1380. But, I'll make one last stab at a distinction, just for old times sake. The usage of suasion from the examples from DD is non-specific, to a general perspective (e.g., moral or cultural norms), while persuasion is for a definite idea or opinion. I regularly persuade the judge to my argument, or try to persuade people to order different things off the menu so we can share and sample, but I might try to suade a child to be kind to animals or to always say please and thank you. Still not much use for suasion. Perhaps suasion is just insipid.

7 comments:

Cara said...

"suasion" in real-life use:

On NPR this morning they were discussing the Treasury Department's role in gathering the biggest banks to bail themselves out of the sub-prime mortgage mess, and described it as "moral suasion" (since no money or commitment on the part of the Treasury Dept. was involved). I suspect that "persuasion" wasn't used because it would have implied that the Treasury department had some specific action that they wanted taken, so "suasion" plus an adjective to take the place of "per" was used instead.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for arriving late.

Another real-life usage was from President Barack Hussein Obama in his presentation of his new Afghanistan strategy:

"As a country, we're not as young -- and perhaps not as innocent -- as we were when Roosevelt was President. Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom. And now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age." (emphasis added)

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-address-nation-way-forward-afghanistan-and-pakistan

Anonymous said...

In Latin, sometimes the prefix 'per' seems to have the meaning of through as in thorough(ly), completely. Can't think of any examples just now, shall try to get some and post. Love your blog :)
Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

From the OED quotations -- 1531 CRANMER in Strype Mem. App. i. (1694) 3 "He swadeth that with such goodly eloquence..that he were lyke to persuade many."

This sentence captures the distinction between the words as they are used in modern rhetoric. Suasion is the deployment of rhetorical means for the sake of moving the audience to the rhetor's position. Persuasion is the effect or result of successful suasion on that audience. One can thus suade an audience yet fail to persuade.

Anonymous said...

My sense has always been that suasion is, through dialogue, attempting to convince you of my cause. Persuasion on the other hand has a bit of manipulation to it. Perhaps not with aggression or malice but some bit of pressuring that goes beyond presenting a logical argument.
It seems to carry the implication that logic alone might not work and so I must add in extra elements to try to get you over to my side.

Bill Courtney said...

Does 'suasion' still exist in contemporary usage other than in the phrase "moral suasion"? To me the original post captures exactly the distinction, and I think that distinction is still valuable to those trying to make a fine point.

Fernando Medina said...

From John S. C. Abbott's book "Hernando Cortez", I offer the following quote. "Cortez, with gratitude to God, seized both ship and cargo, and by his peculiar powers of moral suasion induced the captain and most of the crew to enlist in his service." Page 49 of the 1904 Harper & Brothers Publishers edition.