Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am looking for an alternative phrase to replace "what you don't know can't hurt you."

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, MrHen, Benyamin Hamidekhoo, Matt Эллен, choster Oct 23 '13 at 20:16

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I think this is really too open-ended and subjective, but ignorance is bliss. –  FumbleFingers Oct 23 '13 at 16:42
Or 'what the eye don't see, the heart don't grieve over'. Bad English I know, but that's how it's said, and it's a very old expression. –  bamboo Oct 23 '13 at 17:05
Hi, jlynn, and welcome to ELU. Right now, your question is not entirely answerable. First of all, the question in the title is completely different than the question in the body. The question in the title could be OK, if you explain to us what steps you've taken to try to figure out the meaning, and why those steps have been inadequate. For the alternative phrase question, we need to know why the original doesn't suit your purposes: what context do you want to use this in? Please edit your question clarify it. –  Marthaª Oct 23 '13 at 17:27
If you don't want to use that expression, can you tell us what you're trying to convey? Do you want to protect a loved one from harmful gossip or give your boss plausible deniability (as WS2 answered), or something entirely different? –  Kristina Lopez Oct 23 '13 at 18:23

1 Answer 1

The expression is most often used, in my experience, to justify not giving information to a superior. Usually this is to avoid potential damage if it subsequently becomes known that he/she was in possession of the full facts before a particular course was followed.

One infamous occasion when it was used was at the time of the Iran-Contra hearings by former US Vice-Admiral John Poindexter. He said that he did not inform President Ronald Reagan of certain facts, 'in order to allow the President a level of "plausible deniability"'. The term 'plausible deniability' did, however, go back to the Kennedy Administration and related to the CIA not passing on facts to the White House about covert activities in which they were engaged.

So my suggestion for an alternative phrase to 'what you don't know can't hurt you' is that you should say you are reserving to the other party the opportunity for 'PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY'.

share|improve this answer
I was just about to comment that you're thinking of "Plausible Deniability" when I saw it all the way down at the bottom of your answer! :-) –  Kristina Lopez Oct 23 '13 at 18:21
Around the time of the Poindexter comment, Sir Robert Armstrong, the then British cabinet secretary, under Margaret Thatcher,caused a similar furore. At the time of the 'Spycatcher' affair, he infamously commented that he hadn't lied, but he may have been 'economical with the truth'. The two terms, 'plausible deniability' and 'economical with the truth' created miles of column-inches in newspapers which led to a major debate over ethics in government. –  WS2 Oct 23 '13 at 19:18

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.