Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Unholy Trinity

Samantha Rose writes in her blog about how she’s irked by the fact that people round everything off to the nearest multiple of 5.

I'm with her on the number 5. She’s not insane. Perhaps 1 minute, 14 seconds is precisely the best time setting for that frozen burrito. There's nothing magical about the number 5, except that we like symmetry, and we like things to match our numbers of fingers and toes on each limb.

But there's another number that's given this sort of special treatment, for no good reason at all, and if you teach writing (like I do), it really starts to nag at you: There is nothing magical about the number three.

Nevertheless -- and this is particularly true when I teach business writing classes -- everything in a paper seems to come in sets of three: I get three reasons, of course, but also three parts to a plan, three bullet points, three key facts, three verbs ("We will create, distribute, and implement a plan to increase revenue"), three verbs and three nouns ("We will create, distribute, and implement a plan to increase revenue, marketability, and productivity"), and so forth.

The abuse of three is rampant. For this reason, I am overjoyed (at least for a second or two) when I get papers that say things like "there are two chief reasons" or "I will compare four possible solutions," simply because they indicate the author is not possessed by what I have come to think of as the “unholy trinity.”

1 comment:

  1. I'd never thought about that.

    It probably stems from the magic essay writing formula we were all taught in high school (the three reasons thing at least, can't really explain the other ones).

    I'll work on that. :)