I was reading this article and at a certain point it is said

President Kennedy even estimated that the likelihood of nuclear war at one point was “between 1 in 3 and even”

that makes it the number 2, clearly, but what significance does it have?

"a likelihood of 2" does not mean much to me, also because the scale it is not specified (2 out of 2? out of 10? 100?)

Is it an idiom with a specific meaning and should I avoid taking it literally?

  • In this case, even means a 50% chance--the chances are the same that an event will or will not happen. So President Kennedy's statement could be rephrased "between 33% and 50%". It is not "even" meaning "an even integer between 1 and 3." Aug 17, 2016 at 15:10

1 Answer 1


President Kennedy was intentionally being vague about the possibility of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. There are times when politicians will be vague in ways that people may interpret different meanings.

1 in 3

is 33%


is 50%

What Kennedy was saying was there was less than a 50/50 chance of war, but it was still a real possibility, between 33% and 50%.

If Kennedy had said there was less than a 50/50 chance of war, people would ask "How much less exactly?". If he had said there was a 50% chance of war, people might panic since it's a toss of a coin. However by phrasing it this way, people will scratch their heads and attempt to calculate the odds.

Consider Rumsfeld's famous "Know knowns" quote.

In hindsight, the US and the USSR were closer to war than anyone could have imagined.

  • ah, I was reading it completely in the wrong way! thanks!
    – Federico
    Aug 17, 2016 at 15:38

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