As I probably already mentioned somewhere, I am slightly superstitious. It’s nothing serious, and nothing I can’t rationalize when need be, and it has never influenced my behavior or decision-making; rather, I consider myself superstitious in the sense that I sometimes see patterns which I know can’t logically be there, and that I sometimes start believing in the validity of these patterns, despite my better judgment. These patterns I have decoded in various shapes and forms, but one of the more persisting ones is my faith in the power of the number three.
‘Triplicity’ is a rare word according to my dictionary (BOOM! saved another word from extinction today—you can thank me later), and it denotes ‘a group of three people or things’, and also, in a more archaic version, ‘the state of being triple’. The earliest known usage in English of triplicity dates from the 14th century, and derives from the Late Latin word ‘triplicitas’ (‘three-foldness’), which in turn derives from the Latin word ‘triplex’ (‘threefold’, ‘triple’, ‘three’), which again is a derivation from the combination of the prefix ‘tri’ (‘three’) and the Latin verb ‘plicare’ (‘to fold’, ‘bend’, ‘multiply’, ‘add together’). You might recognize it on account of its more common bigger brother ‘duplicity’, which, before it came to be associated with ‘deceitfulness’, initially merely referred to the ‘state of being double’. Luckily, I don’t see the ‘state of being triple’ prompting any such negative connotations, so I can happily continue to use it.
Triplicity in my daily life is most immediately apparent in my practice as a writer, because ‘the rule of three’ in writing is one of the first ones I learned. Quoting Wikipedia, the rule of three is a writing principle ‘that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things’. (Note that this definition contained exactly three adjectives.) A reader or an audience is more likely to consume information if it is written in triplicities, so as a writer it is a rule you ought to be conscious of. A series of three often creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released. It is the classical ‘beginning, middle, end’ structure, and it continues to be relevant. Interesting side-note: based on the triplicity rule of writing, we have a figure our speech called a ‘hendiatris’. Some of you may have heard of a hendiadys (the expression of a single idea by two words connected with ‘and’, when one could be used to modify the other), but a hendiatris also exists, in this case to express a single idea in three words. To name a very obvious example: sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, to describe the lifestyle of a rock star. And now you know.
But apart from my writing life, triplicity also plays a role in my everyday life, and lately increasingly so. And I know that this is probably only so because I interpret it that way, but I am personally pleased with my interpretation, because evidence has proven it to be more-or-less accurate. I am more specifically referring to the saying ‘third time’s the charm’, which expresses the hope that, after failing twice in the same endeavor, the third time will be successful. And, strangely, I have found this rule to be correct.
Exhibit A: my higher education. I started at the conservatory, and while I don’t regret it, it turned out not to be my cup of tea. Then, I started at University, and chose to study English and Spanish. This was better (because English), but still left me stumbling rather spectacularly. Then last year I started for a third time with English and Dutch, and since then it has been going smoothly. Triplicity: proven effective.
Exhibit B: my weight loss attempts. Once during high school, and once at Uni, the state of my weight bothered me enough to attempt an official diet. That is, I went to a dietitian, who told me everything there was to know about calories and carbs, and then followed up on me while weight loss happened. But while both attempts resulted in weight loss, neither was permanent. Since August this year, however, I gave it a third try, this time without the aid of a dietitian. And while I’m not there yet (so I can’t give conclusive proof that it will be—and will remain—successful), I have a lot more faith now that I will be able to sustain a stable weight once I get there, simply because I’m not relying on someone else for motivation. Triplicity: proven effective.
Exhibit C: writing activities. I’m currently working on the third draft of my manuscript, and I finally feel like it’s going somewhere. And since I entrusted the second draft to a professional editing service, and they gave me feedback, I am confident that with their help, I can make the third draft into a more-or-less definitive version. And then, who knows what will happen? I can’t say, of course, but I’m optimistic this time. Another writing-related development is that the English department at Ghent University is organizing a writing competition this year, for the third time. And though I never participated the first two times (for various reasons), I am working on a short story as we speak, which reflects the theme of this year: “in the world” (a phrase which, the advanced mathematician will observe, consists of three words). Needless to say that I am giddy with excitement. Triplicity: proven effective.
There are more examples, but they are a bit too soon to share, or they haven’t proven their effectiveness yet (though one could argue that some of the previous examples haven’t proven their effectiveness either; their triplicity merely contributes to my feeling confident). Plus, I have illustrated three examples, which seems quite perfect. But do not fret, dearest reader, about my mental health: I am perfectly well-aware that of my own superstition concerning this ‘rule’. Putting faith in things like ‘third time’s the charm’ is, ultimately, more wishful thinking than statistical reality, and what you interpret as the ‘third time’ can be sometimes very subjective. But it is nice to believe that there is a greater cosmic order to my life’s blueprint, and, more importantly, it is also an effective motivator: when at first you don’t succeed, give it a second and a third try; the third time, you’re likely to be successful. Are you going to be successful? There is no guarantee, of course, but it is true that if you give any endeavor a second and a third chance, you are more likely to ultimately get it right than if you give up after your first attempt. Therefore, I don’t think I will lose faith in triplicity anytime soon, whether or not my rational mind cringes at such fancies. I think we might learn from Caesar in this respect: after all he had to come and see first, before he conquered. A good strategy to keep in mind.