Rule of Three

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Feb 9 17:58:55 UTC 2004

On Feb 9, 2004, at 7:16 AM, John Baker wrote:

>         I'll open the bidding for earliest examplar, though I'm sure
> Barry or Sam can do much better.  From a 4/16/84 article in Time about
> the young Donald Trump: "When asked the three rules for making money
> in real estate, most promoters answer with the hackneyed "Location,
> location, location." "

well, you can pretty much bet that someone can improve on a citation
that has "hackneyed" in it!  but this is a start.

>         Notwithstanding the prevalence of the Z, Z, Z formation, I do
> think that it's relatively recent (perhaps as little as 25 to 40 years
> old) and that the real estate joke is the original form...

my guesses too, but intuitions about age of expressions are notoriously
undependable (in both directions), as are intuitions about original
forms (note the current discussion about thinks and things), so i'd
like to see some real data.

>         I'm not at all convinced that the Carnegie Hall joke is the
> same thing, except in the general sense that people have been saying
> things three times for emphasis for a long time.  "Location, location,
> location" is an invariable form, but the Carnegie Hall punch line is
> often given as "practice, X, practice," where X is "son," "boy," or
> another form of address.

yes.  i think that emphatic repetition generally can involve doubling
*or* tripling.  i can say "eat, eat, eat" or "eat, eat" with pretty
much the same effect, but if i said "the two most important things in
the michigan election are jobs and jobs", you'd figure out what i was
getting at, but it would take you more work than if i'd used the figure
with tripling, because you'd recognize that figure automatically.

arnold (zwicky at

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