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Friday, January 20, 2012

Things You Can't Try to Do

Yesterday I said to my landlady "Adesso provo trovare un quaderno." (Now I will try to find a notebook.) She corrected me: "No, adesso provi cercare un quaderno." (No, now you will try to search for a notebook.)

Setting aside the question of what comprises correct Italian here, the second sentence offends my philosophical instincts. The reason is that it seems to me that to try to search for something simply is to search for something: the "try" seems pointless. I can try to find something, but fail, but how can I try to search for something but fail to actually search for it? (Yes, my search may be thwarted y, say, my being arrested, but that strikes me as a different matter.)

What else can't one try to do, or, alternately, for what activities does the trying equal the doing? Hoping strikes me as one: to try to hope the Cubs win the World Series simply is to hope they win the World Series. (Again, as a trope expressing how unlikely I think it is that they will win, I might say, "I am only trying to hope they win!" But I am talking of the usual situation here.)

Believing however, does not strike me as one of these cases: it is not redundant to say "I am trying to believe you will stop playing around," although I do think it is psychologically interesting.

Any other suggestions for words like "search" and "hope" in this respect?

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