Monday, July 27, 2015

Very good sentences

My dad's office had a competition recently to wordsmith Donald Rumsfeld's infamous phrase into something simpler. With his permission, here is the contest:
This Donald Rumsfeld quote won the Plain English Campaign’s Foot in Mouth Award for a “baffling comment by a public figure.” 
"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there 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. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”  
See if you can make it plainer.
And his excellent response:
I am challenged to be as pithy as Don Rumsfeld’s epistemological shorthand of “known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns!” His phrases actually work well for me, as the philosophical question of ‘how do we know anything in this world?’ is well-trodden and of course uses the word “know.” But here’s a less precise rewrite of Rumsfeld, including another Rumsfeldian phrase: 
We lead lives that are a mix of predictability and familiarity, unpredictability and randomness, and total shock and awe.

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