Thursday, August 18, 2005


Churchill's famous "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" has been widely misquoted as "blood, sweat, and tears." Although I would never presume to edit the writing of Churchill, I must admit that the misquoters have a point in their favor. There's something almost mystical about the number three. It's as if two are not enough and four are too many. Writers, especially speech writers, have long recognized this phenomenon and often use a rhetorical device called a triad. Or, as some prefer to express it, "the rule of three."

"The Rule of Three" is something of a misnomer because there's no rule involved, just a principle. That principle is that the human ear has a particular affinity for triplets. Writers with a good ear for cadence use triads routinely . . .

Here are some well-known triads:

From the Bible: And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity.

From the Declaration of Independence: . . . [W]e mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

. . . And here's one of my own that's not yet famous but a triad can give force to our ideas, eloquence to our words, and rhythm to our sentences.

~Richard Dowis, The Lost Art of the Great Speech


Blogger loren said...

Hi Tricia,

Have you ever noticed something that I call 'the law of third mention'?

Let's say it's a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and he gives a list of suspects. The third one mentioned will turn out to be the culprit. Television scripts are really bad about this, too.

I call it a law but it's really more of a definite tendency.

By the way, congratulations on the awards you've received. I know it's hard to get published these days.

11:50 PM  

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