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The rule of three

Churchill's famous ''blood, toil, tears, and sweat'' has been widely misquoted as ''blood, sweat, and tears.'' Although I would never presume to edit the writing of Churchill, I must admit that the misquoters have a point in their favor. There's something almost mystical about the number three. It's as if two are not enough and four are too many. Writers, especially speech writers, have long recognized this phenomenon and often use a rhetorical device called a triad. Or, as some prefer to express it, ''the rule of three.''

''The Rule of Three'' is something of a misnomer because there's no rule involved, just a principle. That principle is that the human ear has a peculiar affinity for triplets. Writers with a good ear for cadence use triads routinely.


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