Tricolons

“Tricolons are a rhetorical flourish—a sonorous list of three concepts, often escalating in significance. The most famous is Julius Caesar’s proud dispatch to the Senate of Rome following his expedition to the near-mythical, mist-clouded Isle of Britain: Veni, Vidi, Vinci’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’). But Caesar’s tricolon is run close by those great orators Lincoln and Churchill, while in recent years Barack Obama has revived the form, sometimes going for the double tricolon, as in this speech echoing the Declaration of Independence:

‘Our generation’s task is to make these words, these rights, these values—of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—real.’

Here are some all-time classics:

‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people.’

The threefold manifestation of a fully functioning democracy as defined by Lincoln. He also, apparently in casual conversation, made a masterly analysis of the limits of the dark arts of political life:

‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.’

Churchill was an enthusiast for the tricolon, most famously in his praise for that handful of gallant nights or the air who defended the shores of Britain:

‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’

Perhaps the most glorious of all is the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, taken from a sonnet by Emma Lazarus:

‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

On a rather more crass level, there is the real estate agents’ mantra, ‘Location, location, location,’ which Tony Blair turned into his slogan “Education, education, education.’ Or the nicely bungled Homer Simpson appeal: ‘I can’t let that happen, I won’t let that happen, and I can’t let that happen.’”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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