Man Without Qualities

Monday, December 01, 2003

Unk, Unk...

Who's there?

Well, when its an acknowledged good but rather conservatively anglophillic stylist such as George F. Will, the usage seems reasonably transparent and meaningful.

But when it's Donald Rumsfeld, the British Plain English Campaign and the BBC seem to have all kinds of patronizing criticisms.

The criticisms seem at bottom more political than linguistic.

I wonder if someone is going to gently reveal to these people that the terms "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns" are common scientific and engineering argot, which has long been used in much defense thinking and almost everywhere serious consideration is given to the need to deal analytically with uncertainty, as in this Rand study:

At any point, there are "knowns" - things people know they know; "known unknowns" - things people know they do not know; and "unknown unknowns" - things people do not know they do not know. The deeper the reach into the future, the more the unknown unknowns dominate.

There. That should be easy and clear enough even for the rigid nitpickers at the British Plain English Campaign and the BBC, who seem a lot more interested in their posited dead linguistic past than any reach into the future.

Comments: Post a Comment