Rumsfeld redux

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Tue Nov 1 12:29:51 UTC 2011

FWIW, I consider this to be one of the most notable quotations of recent decades.  As the overall quality of art and thought declines, some of our preeminent instances of poetry and philosophy are coming from the unlikely realm of politics.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Victor Steinbok [aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2011 5:02 PM
Subject: Rumsfeld redux

A reminder. From Feb. 12, 2002:

> [T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
> We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there
> are some things we do not know.
> But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't
> know.


Note that the second video sounds as if it has a laugh track added in.
Rumsfeld has been pilloried and ridiculed for these comments. But the
very amount of attention that came with that might well have contributed
to the staying power of this ontology, which is actually quite sensible.
Most of the mockery has been attached to "unknown unknowns", although
it's the first one, "known knowns", that represents a tautology to me.
However, the distinctions he made make perfect sense, even if they might
have been expressed better. Slate referred to it as Rumsfeld's "Poetry".

Although some pundits now refer to "unknown unknowns" as "unknowables"
(a perfectly reasonable substitute), the whole set of expressions has
shown an amazing staying power in the media, particularly on political
blogs that no longer mock it, but use it again and again, often with a
shout out to Rumsfeld.

Just goes to show that you can't predict staying power, particularly not
from a strong initial aversion. Ironically, it's this strong reaction
that may keep an item afloat long enough for people to reconsider their
initial attitude.


The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list