At the 1 hr 10 mins 0 secs instant, Justice Stephen G Breyer says: (I ask a disparate question here)

I obviously have not convinced you. [laughter] I’m just trying to acquaint you with the arguments on the two sides. I forgot one which is important, psychologically. It’s not a logical argument, but it is a support in psychologically [Did I mistranscribe here?]. Every one of us, while you are there, I am there, not one of us thinks that we are doing at any minute, what 99% of the people think we are doing, which is doing what we want. I think almost all the time, I am not. We are trustees, that’s what we think of. We are trustees of an institution, and that institution has served America, well in the past, OK we hope in the present, and who knows about the future. So some of us may think, if we were to vote for something with the implications of change we know not what, be careful. That is called being very conservative about working major changes on this institution. That’s not a logical argument. It is a psychological argument, but I would not understate its importance.

Would someone please decompose or enlarge on we know not what? Is a preposition is missing? I guess that it equals the following, but what are the steps or thought processes in transforming/rewriting

...with the implications of change and we don't know what these are...

to effect/induce the original bolded construct?

  • Where you ask "Did I mistranscribe here", I believe he misspoke. It sounds like he meant to say "but it is important psychologically" and it came out a bit wrong.
    – user230
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 10:29

1 Answer 1


...with the implications of change and we don't know what these are...

Yes, you got it.

The most famous usage of the construct that I know of comes from The Bible:

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

That is saying "they don't know what they are doing".

I would suggest that most people who are using this phrase today are probably alluding to the Biblical phrasing. It's not typical English.

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