Double Don't Know

Interviewer: How do you think your fans will react [now that you're returning to playing golf after being treated for sex addiction]?
Tiger Woods: I don't know. I don't know.
— Interview, March 22, 2010

An ubiquitous utterance in film, television, and the legitimate theatre, signifying that the protagonist is (dramatically) out of ideas. For real, this time.

Whereas in Real Life, most of us are content to say "I don't know" once, if at all, fictional characters are likely to repeat the phrase for dramatic effect. It's a common act break, being almost magnetically attracted to music stings and commercial breaks.

Although there are several variations of the Double Don't Know, there are a few particularly common breeds. Samples, with context:

After School Specials
Concerned Parent: But what about the Mid-Winter Sophomore Diversity Dance Social?
Troubled Teen: I don't know anymore... I just don't know!
[runs away, slamming any doors in her path]

Guy At Console: The ship's glowy core thing is bright red and leaking smoke for some reason! And stuff is shaking — that means this is serious, captain. What should we do!
Captain: I don't know, Console Guy. I don't know.
[close-up of pulsating space-gas blob on the view screen]

The Double Don't Know is closely related to One-Liner, Name... One-Liner - simple, repetitive phrases used to provide closure to a scene or plot, including but not limited to: "I do, Billy. I really do," or, "It sure is, Billy. It sure is." etc. This variation is mostly a Dead Horse Trope, though the namesake phrase(s) linger on.

The Double Don't Know is a stock phrase trope. It has nothing to do with "what now?" cliffhangers that don't feature repetitive statements akin to those described above. It's also unrelated to Donald Rumsfeld's famous Unknown Unknowns - "the things we don't know we don't know".

Examples...or maybe not. We don't know. We just don't know!

Fan Works
  • From the Miraculous Ladybug fic Spots Off, after Adrien and Alya see Marinette's identity being reported on the morning news:
    Adrien: Alya, I’m gonna go visit her. Do… do you think that would help?
    Alya: I don’t know Adrien, I just don’t know. I don’t know how to help her anymore…

  • Played straight - as so many things were - in I Was a Teenage Werewolf.
  • Top Gun, as the classic '80s cliche storm, features it, though in a slightly different way than might be expected.
    Viper: Would you wanna fly with him?
    Jester: I dunno. I just don't know.
  • In Ghostbusters (1984), after being fired from the University:
    Ray: This ecto-containment unit that Spengler and I talked about is going to take a load of bread to capitalize. Where are we going to get the money?
    Peter: [takes a swig from a bottle] I don't know, Ray. I don't know...
  • The Terminator: When Kyle and Sarah are on the run from the Terminator, she asks him if he can stop it.
    Sarah: Can you stop it?
    Reese: I dunno. With these weapons, I dunno.
  • In The Enforcer, one of the terrorists wants to know something:
    Bobby: Did Wanda deliver the [Ransom Note] tape to the cops?
    Lalo: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I wasn't with her.
  • Happens in the film version of The Sound of Music. When the Von Trapp family sits down to dinner, Captain Von Trapp announces that he's going away on yet another trip, to groans from his children. Gretl asks "How long will you be gone this time, Father?" and Captain Von Trapp says "I'm not sure, Gretl, not sure."
  • In JFK, after the team views David Ferrie's body. Garrison begins walking away, dejected at losing the prosecution's best witness to the conspiracy. "Where you goin', Boss?" Bill calls after him. Garrison replies, "I don't know, Bill. I just...don't... know." (In the two-tape set of the Director's Cut on VHS, Tape 1 ended immediately after this line. Thus, it actually served as the Act Break while the viewer switched tapes.)
  • In Lord of War, a triple version:
    Yuri: I need a partner.
    Vitaly: I don't know. I don't know, Yuri. I don't know.
  • Happened by accident in The Stand. Near the end, one character is asked the reason for all of what happened. He says, "I don't know," then pauses. Stephen King spent a good month trying to come up with an answer, couldn't, and had him repeat himself.
  • Clint McCullough's Nevada has several:
    • Meade Asks his Uncle Charlie, after he discovered that Charlie knew that Meade's wife was unfaithful (at least a year before Meade found out), who the guy was:
      Charlie had been dreading the question, even more the answer. He hesitated for a moment, then blurted out, "Damnit, I don't know!" His voice trailed off. "I don't know."
    • Meade has his rival at gunpoint, and wants to know how he got Meade's son David hooked on drugs.
      "I don't know! I don't know!" Tony Giuliano shouted in his terror.
    • Reese, Meade's son from a relationship with a woman who left him without telling him she was pregnant, has come back to see Meade (without letting Meade know he is Meade's son), and Smitty, one of Meade's closest friends who realized it as soon as he saw Reese, is trying to talk him into working for Meade, and that while Meade will feel blood ties, he'll never guess Reese is his son. Reese isn't so convinced:
      Stretching his long legs, Reese rested his head against the cushion. "I don't know, Smitty," he said, staring at the ceiling. "I just don't know.'"
  • In the Warrior Cats book The Darkest Hour, Bramblepaw asks Firestar whether Sorrelkit, who has just eaten poisonous berries, will survive.
    Firestar let out a long breath. "I don't know, Bramblepaw," he admitted. "I just don't know."

Live-Action TV
  • In Band of Brothers, when Easy Company advances into Foy and Lieutenant Dike completely loses his cool, he's surrounded by subordinates demanding to know, "What are your orders, sir?" and wails back, "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!"
  • A sample exchange from Star Trek: The Next Generation ("The Battle"):
    Beverly: You had no choice.
    Picard: Didn't I? I don't know anymore... I just don't know.
  • Spoofed in the "Killer Sheep" sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus by having a scientist ramble "I just don't know. I really just don't know. I'm afraid I really just don't know," and so on.
  • In the comedy TV show Corner Gas, the theme song goes, in part: "I don't know, the same things you don't know. I don't know, I just don't know."
  • In Revolution a guy has a mook on a table, and asks him where his son is. "I don't know. I swear I don't know." The mook makes several promises, but still can't tell the man where his son is. The man says "Okay" then gives the Mook a lethal injection.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Sam replies twice with "I don't know" when Andy asks him where they are.

  • From The Beatles' "Something": "You're asking me, will my love grow? I don't know! I don't know!"
  • Shows up in the Stevie Wonder song "Lately", which is about the period between an affair and the resulting breakup.
    Far more frequently you're wearing perfume
    with, you say, no special place to go,
    but when I ask "Will you be coming back soon?",
    you don't know, never know...

Western Animation
  • From the Jonny Quest episode "The Robot Spy". Doctor Quest is puzzled by the appearance of the title device in its hidden form.
    Jonny: What is it, Dad?
    Dr. Quest: I don't know, Jonny, I really don't know!
  • In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Bruce has yet to become Batman, and is torn between fulfilling his promise to his parents and his new love Andrea Beaumont. He knows that he can't risk his life if someone is waiting at home for him. Alfred walks in and suggests he tell her that, as she's on the phone.
    Bruce: Alfred, I can't. Not now.
    Alfred: What shall I say, sir?
    Bruce: I...don't know. I just don't know! *punches the wall.*

Real Life
  • In the court case of Perry v. Hollingsworth, which attempts to strike down California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriages, the court's decision had the following:
    At oral argument on proponents’ motion for summary judgment, the court posed to proponents’ counsel the assumption that “the state’s interest in marriage is procreative” and inquired how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. Counsel replied that the inquiry was “not the legally relevant question,” but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.”
  • John McCain spoke on November 5, 2008 at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Phoenix, Arizona, when he conceded the Presidential election to Barack Obama:
    I don't know. [interrupted by applause] I don't know what more we could have done to try to win this election.

Statler: Can you think of anything that would make that last show something other than completely worthless?
Waldorf: I don't know, Statler, I just don't know!
Both: Do-ho-ho-ho-hoh!