Mon, 01 Dec 2003

LONDON, England (Reuters) — A comment last year by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the hunt for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was awarded the “Foot in Mouth” prize Monday by Britain’s Plain English Campaign.

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.”

Sigh. It appears that the “Plain English Campaign” has been hijacked by ideologues. Rumsfeld’s comments are perfectly lucid. Look at them again:

“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.”

It’s not exactly Descartes, but it’s a fairly eloquent dissertation on the limits of human knowledge – and all in words of two syllables or less. The fact that his administration turned out to be wrong about what they knew and what they didn’t know only underlines Rumsfeld’s perspicacity.

When the spokesman says “We think we know what he means. But we don’t know if we really know,” either he’s an idiot, or what he really means is, “Where are your weapons of mass destruction now, Rambo?” Sad when you have to decipher the press releases of the Plain English Campaign.

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