The Trouble with Triples

Orangeville, ON (My Corner Office) Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A priest, a minister and a rabbi…

There are numerous well-known examples of triads – expressions containing three components. In spite of their prevalence in speeches, titles, and jokes, triads remain elegant and concise expressions of completeness. As long as you avoid two pitfalls, it would be appropriate to incorporate them into slogans, persuasive arguments, and everyday marketing copy.

The first problem is that trios are so powerful in our minds that we tend to telescope what should be four or more components into three. Thomas Hobbes, for example, made no mention of life in the state of nature as “nasty, brutish, and short.” He instead referred to it as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A similar example of a trio is the “three wise men bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” However, a Biblical scholar indicates there are no three magi in the text. There is a natural tendency to gravitate toward three.

Also, avoid using too many triads in close proximity in your writing. In many cases, this can be viewed as pretentious, artificial, inappropriately hypnotic, or otherwise distracting.  

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