They say things come in threes

Picture of some strange fungi I found on Sunday.

They say things come in threes. Well this weekend I’ve met up with three people that I haven’t seen for ages.

On Friday evening I ran into an old friend I haven’t seen for about 12 years in the supermarket and we stood and blocked the aisle chatting for about half and hour, on Saturday I went to see Sarah, who I have seen once since we left school 30 years ago and last night another friend who I have just discovered on Facebook and I also haven’t seen for about a decade came round for dinner.

It was great to see him. He used to be my sci-fi film partner – we’d go to the cinema to see the latest science fiction films that no-one else would want to see :)

We talked about airshows and car shows, photography and cats and the new James Bond film, which he seems to think I should see and I, being a purist, thinks any James Bond film not based on a book by Ian Fleming, isn’t actually a James Bond film.

So, three friends I haven’t seen in years and years in one weekend.

Why do good things come in threes? They also say bad things come in threes? Does everything come in threes?

Well, the more I thought about it, the more it appears it does. My day is split into morning, noon and night, I am meant to have three meals a day, if you go to a restaurant you will often have a three-course meal.

At school, where children learn their ABC and 123 (in fact, reading, writing and arithmetic)   they are taught stories should have a beginning, middle and an end and how many folkstories have threes? Three Billy Goats Gruff, Three Little Pigs or Three Blind Mice. A fairy, or a genie, grants three wishes – not five or one, always three.

In fact, there is a rule of three for writing which says people respond better if the hero has to try three times before succeeding (try, try and try again) and that jokes are funnier if the rule of three is applied – there was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman ,,,

The rule of three is used often in speeches “I came, I saw, I conquered” or even Tony Blair’s “Education, education, education”.

Why? Why not two, or four? Why do people react better to threes?

There is a rule of thirds in photography, which would suggest this three thing is also a visual stimulus, at the beginning of a race you hear ‘Ready, steady, go’ (or take your marks, get set, go).

There are three items of cutlery, three lights on a traffic light. There are 12 months in a year and these are split into four seasons so each season has three months in it.

People paint triptyches and write trilogies. There is a rule of three in maths, in c++, in flight trajectory in fact, it would seem. everywhere.

And I’d actually never noticed it before.

But now I want to know why we respond better to things that come in threes.

Does anybody know?

  1. As the third person to “like” this post, I thought I ought to come up with some witty comment based on the number three but inspiration has completely failed me. Instead I’ll just add: 3 spacial dimensions; 3 types of university degree; 3 men in a boat; 3 medals in the Olympics. I wonder if this is a cultural thing; maybe in some cultures everything comes in fours or twos.

    • I don’t know, but the more I thought about it, the more threes popped up (how could I forget Three Men in a Boat?) and I thought it strange :)

    • I wonder if there will be a third time? :)

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