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12.01.2003

Reading comprehension 

For some reason Donald Rumsfeld was awarded the "Foot in Mouth" prize by Britain's Plain English campaign for most baffling comment by a public figure:



Rumsfeld, renowned for his uncompromising tough talking, received the prize for the most baffling comment by a public figure.

"Reports that say something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know," Rumsfeld told a news briefing.

"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."

John Lister, spokesman for the campaign, which strives to have public information delivered in clear, straightforward English, said: "We think we know what he means. But we don't know if we really know."



I'm not an English major, but Rumsfeld's comment made perfect sense to me the first time I read it.

There are things that we know.

There are things of which we are ignorant, but at least we recognize our ignorance of these things.

Finally, there are things of which we are ignorant, and to our detriment we are unaware of our ignorance.

It's a deep epistemological observation that Rumsfeld made, and it's especially relevant to the difficulties in gathering intelligence in the cause of fighting terrorism. But for some reason, Rumsfeld is being pilloried by Bush-haters who think that the comment above displays ineloquence or stupidity on the part of the Bush administration.

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