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I found the expression in a story about a 24-year-old pilot who landed his plane on a beach and who "'could not be talked out of it' when he was in trouble." It was in today’s New York Times, in an article titled, “A Beach Landing? Well, He’d Seen It on TV.”

To me "could not be talked out of it" sounds unfamiliar, though it may be quite natural to native speakers. Does this mean he simply did not respond to the air traffic controller out of the plane because of panic? Why is talk used in passive form? Can I replace “can’t be talked out of it” with “can’t be contacted with“ or “can't be called up”? The sentence including this phrase goes as follows:

A 24-year-old pilot with an airsick passenger who landed his single-engine Piper Warrior on Rockaway Beach in Queens on Monday night could not be talked out of it, no matter how hard an air-traffic controller tried, according to a recording. The pilot, Jason Maloney of Cornwall, N.Y., later told the police that he had gotten the idea from a television program called “Flying Wild Alaska” that depicted rough landings.

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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes, it's quite an natural phrase. The Air Traffic Controller (ATC) talked to the pilot, trying to persuade him (or probably in this case ordered him) not to land there; hence, the ATC tried to talk the pilot out of landing there. Since the interesting person in this story is the pilot, we have to switch around and use the passive voice to make him the subject of the sentence.

I don't see any particular implication of panic in the paragraph you quoted. It isn't explicitedly stated, but in this case I'd expect it to be more that the pilot was being stubborn. In any case, the phrase itself is fairly neutral, and could apply to a wide range of situations.

Notice that the ATC was very definitely in communication with the pilot. To talk someone out of a course of action, you have to be able to talk to them. There's even a weak implication that it's a two-way conversation, particularly in cases like this one where the pilot refused to be talked out of his landing. Your suggested equivalents don't work because they all say that the ATC couldn't communicate with the pilot somehow.

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@Rhodri.Yes the pilot wasn’t in panic. He made up his mind to try rough landing whatever happens. It did not come to my mind that the pilot ‘could not be talked out of it’ means he was ‘not persuaded not to do’ rough landing. I am familiar with ‘be told not to do’, but quite unfamiliar with the use of talk in passive form as in ‘be talked not to do / out of it.’ –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 8 '11 at 0:57
    
@Yoichi: It's only passive because the article is about the pilot, not the air traffic controller. If the article had centred on the air traffic controller it would have said that he "couldn't talk the pilot out of it" in the active voice as usual. There's nothing about "talked out of" that makes it inherently use the passive, it's just the way the article is written. –  user1579 Apr 8 '11 at 1:20
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Talked out of it is an expression that means "convinced to not do it; dissuaded from doing it". It is a fairly straightforward expression (i.e. it means more or less what it sounds like it ought to mean), and there is nothing strange or unusual about it, at least to my ear.

The gist of the story is, a guy was piloting a plane and had to make an emergency landing (I believe because one of his passengers was sick). He had the idea to land on the beach, because he'd seen something like it on TV. The air traffic controller tried to convince him not to do something that crazy and dangerous, but the pilot did it anyway.

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Yes, it's a natural / common expression.

The air traffic controller could not talk him out of it

means:

The air traffic controller tried to persuade him not to do it but he was not persuaded.

I don't see a suggestion of panic in the excerpt.

He might've responded to the air traffic controller; he might not -- the excerpt doesn't say.

Why passive?:

consider these alternatives:

"The pilot could not be talked out of it"

"The air traffic controller could not talk the pilot out of it"

The relevant / important thing is the pilot / the pilot's attitude, not the air traffic controller, so the pilot is the subject of the sentence, which makes makes the passive the natural choice.

"Can I replace “can’t be talked out of it” with “can’t be contacted with“ or “can't be called up”?"

No -- different meanings.

Ps. In the excerpt, he couldn't be talked out of it. Maybe obviously, somebody can be talked out of something -- they can be persuaded not to do something that they intend to do.

e.g: "I talked him out of it" / "I managed to talk him out of it"

And somebody can also be talked into something. I.e. -- persuaded to do that thing :)

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+1 for "Talked into". Welcome to EL&U! –  user1579 Apr 8 '11 at 0:17
    
From the words, a 24-year old pilot “with an airsick passenger,” I simply thought he was in panic with having a sick person on his side. But it didn’t seem to have been any problem with him. Clearly he was resolute for trying landing on beach. –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 8 '11 at 1:21
    
Landing an aircraft on Rockaway Beach in Queens on Monday night is not resolute, it is reckless - unless you have made prior arrangements with New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for the public beach to be cleared of people. –  RedGrittyBrick Apr 8 '11 at 14:45
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Essentially, when someone cannot be talked out of a course of action, it means that they have decided their course and will not be diverted from that path by any logical or emotional pleas. They will stubbornly follow their decision to its end, whether good or bad.

In the case you described, the pilot had made the decision to land on the beach, and no argument the air traffic controller could give would change his mind. It implies that there was communication between the two however; saying he couldn't be talked out of it implies that the air traffic controller attempted to persuade him.

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Personally I think the usage in the example is (conciously or unconciously) influenced by the fact that an air traffic controllers do 'talk down' a pilot with problems who needs ground-based help.

By the same token, one could say the controller talked the pilot out of trouble without implying the pilot was uncooperative. In this particular case, I suppose he wasn't actually cooperating with the controller, but I doubt they had a long and heated debate about it as the phrasing might imply. Talking down and talking out of trouble are just things controllers do, but in this case it probably wasn't really the most appropriate choice of phrase.

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