[Ads-l] trifecta = three related items

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 4 17:39:26 UTC 2018

Two days ago, Wired published “Fake Meat, Served Six Ways” (https://bit.ly/2u0SMlp <https://bit.ly/2u0SMlp>) in which Joi Ito writes:

Around the time I turned 40, I decided to address the trifecta of concerns I had about climate change, animal rights, and my health: I went hard vegan.

Not a very clear use of “trifecta”, but it seems clear that the three items are climate change, animal rights and personal health.

Wiktionary (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/trifecta <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/trifecta>) has a relevant definition labelled as “US, by extension”: A set of three related things, often things that cause problems.

This definition is echoed in the The Free Dictionary (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/trifecta <https://www.thefreedictionary.com/trifecta>): A set or combination of three things

The English Oxford Living Dictionaries (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trifecta <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trifecta>) does not have such a definition. Merriam-Webster (https://bit.ly/2MOj15k <https://bit.ly/2MOj15k>) also lacks this definition though it includes example sentences "automatically from various online news sources” that require it.

Of those example sentences, two are particularly relevant:

The trifecta of salicylic acid, green tea, and licorice root extract reduces redness, soothes inflammation, and unclogs pores. (https://bit.ly/2KIFjYY <https://bit.ly/2KIFjYY>)
The menus, too, are informed by the trifecta of neighborhoods in the restaurant's name. (https://on.freep.com/2tUxJkp <https://on.freep.com/2tUxJkp>)

Also noteworthy is an example using a somewhat awkward “or” in the list of trifecta elements found by Joel Benson on 26 November 2015 (http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2015-November/139920.html <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2015-November/139920.html>) in the The New York Times: And social media has unexpectedly crowned it as the next big thing on Thanksgiving dessert tables, a space typically reserved for the just-the-basics trifecta of pumpkin, apple or pecan pie. (https://nyti.ms/2KRfen2 <https://nyti.ms/2KRfen2>)

Around eight years ago (based on the comment dates), Maeve Maddox (https://www.dailywritingtips.com/trifecta-not-always-appropriate/ <https://www.dailywritingtips.com/trifecta-not-always-appropriate/>) tried to prescribe the meaning, but the battle was surely already lost by then.

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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