Unknown knowns.

by w3woody

There are known knowns–these are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns: thing we know we don’t know.

There are also unknown unknowns–and the best way to experience this is to go to any scientific lecture. At the end the lecturer will ask if there are any questions. You know that feeling like you don’t know what the hell is going on, so you don’t know what to ask?

Yep: unknown unknowns.

You don’t know what you don’t know, so you don’t know what to ask.

I contend there are also unknown knowns: things we know–but we don’t know we know.

The language rules we know — but don’t know we know.

“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”

That is, that “lovely little old French rectangular green whittling silver knife” just sounds mental.

And you knew that. But you didn’t know you knew that.

Word order for two or three words which sound similar except for a single vowel, must be in “I-A-O” order. It’s why we say “zig-zag” and not “zag-zig”, and “tick-tock”, not “tock-tick.” The game is “tick-tack-toe”, not “tack-tick-toe.”

And you knew that. But you didn’t know you knew that.

We don’t use the present tense when describing something that is happening now. We use the present-progressive. So you say “I am brushing my teeth” (the present-progressive tense), not “I brush my teeth” (the present tense). But there are exceptions: some verbs used as an auxiliary use the present-tense form: “I think you’re right”, and not the common mistake non-native English speakers make when they say “I am thinking you’re right.”

And you knew that. But you didn’t know you knew that.

There are plenty of things in this article which you know. But you don’t know you knew it.


It’s not just with language, by the way.

Everywhere we see “knowledge” that we just assume everyone knows. We’re so inundated in things we don’t know we know, we find ourselves stumped when we encounter someone who doesn’t just “know” these things.

It’s not that they’re lacking common sense, or are dumber than a bag of hammers, or they’re mentally defective.

It’s that we don’t know what to teach, because we don’t know what we know.

Which means it’s important to be compassionate, even if it is for the apparent simple mistake of not properly constructing the pluperfect progressive passive verb form.

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