The Devil's Dictionary and repetition

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Jan 21 00:03:16 UTC 2000

>A more academic study is a classic piece by Alan Dundes, "The Number Three
>in American Culture" (tracing it to European and Christian roots, of
>course, as others have pointed out).  I recall another article comparing
>number mystiques cross-culturally but can't find the book just now (it's in
>_Every Man His Way_, a collection of cultural anthropology studies, edited
>by Dundes).  Peter Farb may have something in _Word Play_ too.
>But these cultural systems have nothing to do with learning theory.  Larry
>Horn is closer to the mark, I think; I have data from an early study by Dan
>Slobin on elicited imitation in young children, in which the child, upon
>hearing the prompt "I have a ball ball," interprets the repetition as
>meaning modifier + head noun and repeats it exactly (with stress on the
>"adjective"), whereas she doesn't fall for this trick when hearing "I want
>to go go go"--she simply says "I want to go."

Neat.  I thought I might also mention, since (surprisingly) no one else
has, Freud's essay on the deep psychic significance of the number 3, as
played out in the scene of the three caskets (gold, silver, lead) in The
Merchant of Venice and comparable scenes in other dramatic works (including
the kingdom partition from Lear, Paris's choice among the three goddesses,
the three Fates, the three Norns, etc., etc.  For Freud, the choice comes
down to that of Woman as Mother, Woman as Lover, and Woman as
Destroyer--all, it goes without saying, from the male perspective.  ("The
Theme of the Three Caskets", 1913, reprinted in Creativity and the


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