The Devil's Dictionary and repetition

James E. Clapp jeclapp at WANS.NET
Thu Jan 20 20:23:46 UTC 2000

Beverly Flanigan wrote:
> A more academic study is a classic piece by Alan Dundes, "The Number Three
> in American Culture" . . .

Do you have a citation for this?  I knew of the article (but didn't have the
title) and was looking for it a few years ago, and failed to find it.  I'd
heard a reading or discussion of it on the radio many, many years ago, and it
was intriguing.

Seven, of course, is also a magic number in many cultures from waaaaay back,
probably because there were seven wandering celestial bodies, i.e., seven
visible bodies that did not stay put relative to all the rest (hence the
seven days of the week with names corresponding to those bodies, or to
assorted deities associated with them:  Sunday for sun, Monday for moon,
Tuesday for Tiw [couterpart of Mars], Wednesday for Woden [counterpart of
Mercury], Thursday for Thor [counterpart of Jupiter], Friday for Freya
[counterpart of Venus], Saturday for Saturn).

This magic quality makes seven a popular choice for a number that could just
as well be six or eight or five or nine (e.g., in defining how many seconds
you should emphasize a point in order for it to sink in), just as the magic
quality of "three" makes it a popular choice for numbers that could as easily
be two or four (e.g., in giving examples, or listing "the most important
qualities" of something--as "location, location, location"--or for all sorts
of rhetorical purposes, as "me, myself, and I").

James E. Clapp

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