Paul Smith's Articles for Spotlight Magazine
Ready, Steady, Go...!
Test your English - what's missing at the end of the following phrases:
- The Father, the Son, and the ?
- Sex, Drugs, and ?
- The Good, the Bad, and the ?
- Blood, Sweat, and ?
- Friends, Romans, ?
Most English speakers will complete these well-known sets with Holy Ghost,
Rock'n'roll, Ugly, Tears, and Countrymen. The human mind seems designed to
work with groups of three; it loves a trinity.
Three different things is also an easy amount for most of us to remember -
give us four, five, and six items and we start to get lost. This is why we
naturally cluster telephone or credit card numbers when we speak them. Our
short-term memory can comfortably handle groups of three - thus
036-597-216-90 is easier than 03659-72169-0 . The same applies to spelling,
when you are spelling a new word over the telephone - make it easy for
yourself and your listener, use the 3 rule: "My name is Peter Sobbotkewich,
You'll find the rule of 3 everywhere. Many jokes give two examples to get
our minds moving in certain direction, and then with the third example we
get hit with the surprise punchline. The following "one-liners" are all
composed of 3 elements:
- What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? A nervous wreck.
- My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned: couldn't concentrate.
- Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
- If your feet smell and your nose runs, you've been made upside-down.
An old British army dictum states that in giving orders to troops you should
always give instructions three times: "Tell them what you're going to tell
them; tell them; and tell them what you told them. It's almost as if we need
the first time for orientation, the second for understanding, and the third
for remembering. A similar injunction by the United States Marine Corp
quoted by INC. Magazine states: "The rule (of three) dictates that a person
should limit his or her attention to three tasks or goals... The rule
prescribes boiling a world of infinite possibilities down to three
alternative courses of action. Anything more and a marine can become
overextended and confused. The marines experimented with a rule of four and
found that effectiveness plummeted."
This principle is certainly applied by advertisers who claim that we need to
see an ad at least 3 times in order to recognize, retain, and remember it.
Politicians of all colours use the rule of three in speechmaking not only
because it makes information more digestible, but because an audience is
almost certain to applaud if the last sentence of the speech contains 3
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"
"Train, train, and re-train"
"All free men wherever they may live are citizens of Berlin;... and,
therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words... "Ich bin ein
Such a rhetorical device gives power and memorability to a presentation and
creates a strong feeling of completion - no wonder the ending of Kennedy's
speech at the Berlin wall carried such force.
We can use the rule of three to make our lives more effective - it sharpens
thinking, improves communication, and is as easy as A,B,C!
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