Omne trium perfectum: the rule of 3

This article is the seventh in a series. It was first published on July 18th 2020, via LinkedIn.

How’s your Latin?

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This translates as “everything that is three is perfect”, or “every set of three is complete”.

Even if you’ve never heard the phrase “omne trium perfectum”, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the “The Rule of 3”. It refers to the tendency for things that are grouped in threes to be somehow more memorable, more powerful and more enduring. What’s more, it’s in action all around you. Here are a few examples:

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  • Ready, set, go
  • Lights, camera, action
  • Veni, vidi, vici
  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people
  • Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
  • Three Stooges
  • Three Musketeers
  • Three Blind Mice
  • Three Little Pigs

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The Rule of 3 is particularly prominent in the field of writing, given the way it combines “…both brevity and rhythm, with having the smallest amount of information to create a pattern”. This doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with combining words or pieces of information in pairs or groups of four etc. It’s just that there is something special about groupings of three.

In fact, several major religions are formulated around groups of three; including:

Christianity (Holy Trinity)

  • The Father,
  • The Son, and
  • The Holy Ghost.

(The word “trinity” means “threefold”, “three at a time”, “three in it”.)

Hinduism (Three principal gods)

  • Brahma – the creator of the universe,
  • Vishnu – the preserve of the universe, and
  • Shiva – the destroyer of the universe

Use of the Rule of 3 is commonly found in public speeches. On April 5 this year, Queen Elizabeth II gave a speech on the global coronavirus pandemic that applied the Rule of 3 on several occasions. These included:

“A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.”

You’ll notice how this sentence contains:

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The speech also contained:

“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

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If you pay attention and listen carefully, you’ll be surprised how often you hear or see the Rule of 3 in action. It’s used so much because it’s effective. Perhaps your writing could benefit from its application?

Note: This article is the seventh in a series. Links to earlier articles are included below:

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Author: Steven Macek

I learnt a long time ago that in order to grow it is necessary to step outside one’s comfort zone. As a person who craves growth and change this has led me to continually seek out opportunities to make myself uncomfortable, whether physically, emotionally or psychologically. The (Dis)Comfort Zone blog is a vehicle for cataloging those experiences.

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