Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Nature of Trichotomy

Ever since the publication of H. Usener's monograph in 1903, no one has questioned the importance of the number three in Greek and Roman culture. However, in American culture one finds quite frequently that there are alternative classification schemes: One binary and one trinary. The present thesis is not that the number three is the only numerical native category in American culture, but rather that it is the predominant one.

The following general statements about the nature of trichotomy may be of interest -

(1) Often three appears to be an absolute limit; there are three terms or three categories and no more. In folk speech one can give three cheers for someone, but not two or four. (And each cheer may consist of "Hip, Hip, Hooray.") The starter for a race will say "One, two, three, go." He will not count to two or four. (Cf. the three commands "On your mark, get set, go.) The alphabet is referred to as the ABC's and in the common folk simile, something is as easy as ABC; one does not speak of learning his AB's or his ABCD's.

2) If there are more than three terms, the additional ones will not infrequently be defined primarily in terms of one of the three basic terms, usually one of the extremes. For example, in shirt sizes, one finds small, medium, and large. The size "extra-large" is certainly linguistically and very probably conceptually derived form "large," rather than possessing separate individual status.

(3) One source of trichotomies consists of positions located in reference to some initial point. In golf one tries to shoot par for the course. He may, however, shoot "under" par or "over" par. In music, the point of reference from which "middle C," which serves, for example, as a midpoint between the base and treble clefs in addition to functioning as a point of reference from which to describe voice ranges (e.g., "two octaves above middle C").

(4) The number three also figures prominently in American superstitions. Sometimes, it signifies luck: "Third time's a charm." Sometimes it is the opposite: "Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride," "Three on a match is bad luck," and "Going down for the third time" (i.e., drowning).

5. In American folk songs there are numerous examples of trebling and it is doubtful whether many singers are fully conscious of it. A word or phrase is thrice repeated: "Row, row, row your boat," "Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb," "Do you know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man?" "Did you ever see a lassie, a lassie, a lassie?" and such other favorites as "Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight?" "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho," "Here we go round the mulberry bush," and "London Bridge is falling down," to list just a few.

6. The pattern is also found in traditional games. In the popular parlor game Tick-Tack-Toe, whose title itself is trinary, the object of the game is to get three x's or ciphers in a row. In card games, three of a kind or sequential runs of at least three cards may be important. In games such as "Hearts," where each individual passes cards to his neighbor, the number passed is three. The playing cards themselves are of interest. While there are four suits (possibly a reflection of a Chinese origin), there are but three face cards in American decks of cards. When it is realized that some European sets have four face cards, and further that the particular face cards in American culture are a King, Queen, and Jack, a secular trio of father, mother, and son, the three penchant becomes more apparent.

7. Threeness also occurs in team games or sports. In the "national pastime" threes abound. In baseball there are nine players; nine innings; three outs; three strikes; first, second, and third base, left, center, and right field; and often three umpires. Moreover, the fact that in professional baseball both batting and fielding averages are calculated to three places, pitching "earned run averages" (ERA) consist of three digits, and box scores commonly list "runs, hits, and errors" does tend to suggest a ternary pattern. While the patterning is not perfect (a walk is earned by four balls), three does seem to be the prevailing number. Batters are measured in part by the number of RBI's (runs batted in) and whether or not they hit over .300. (Is it just a coincidence that this particular percentage is singled out?)

8. In many instances, only the first three participants to finish a race receive official recognition. Similarly, in horse racing the three possibilities are win, place, and show. Noteworthy also is the fact that in many American games there is more than the binary possibility of winning or losing. The third alternative, that is, drawing or tying, allows the choices "win, lose, or draw," which is consistent with trichotomic patterning.

.. and a few other examples which are too lengthy to be incorporated here. Of course, for more information, please refer to The Number Three in American Culture.

Anyways. So it is true. The number 3 plays a significant role in modern day culture. And Since American culture is pretty much the world culture due to cultural imperialism from the West.. it's well, erm.. applicable.

I mean, honestly, 3 weekends in a row I've had mishaps befalling me.. It's not just coincidence for crying out loud!

24 September - Some morons smashed my car window only to get a way with a few measly items.

1 October - The ceramic water tank in a restaurant's toilet fell on me which resulted in lacerations and abrasions on some parts of the body, as well as 3 unsightly stitches on my left thumb.

7 October - AES 3989, a silver Mercedes Benz was being a moron and did not stop at the junction where he was supposed to, which resulted in him scraping the sides of my car.

They say a positive mind maketh a positive life. So I resorted to chanting to myself every day - "From today onwards, I will be happy because only good things will happen to me!"

Even funnier, one night as I was driving along the LDP highway, I found myself chanting that line loudly as DJ Fono co-hosted the Wicked show with Sar on RedFM.

I needed to do that. Really! Some even said I might need to arrange things in my office or my room, maybe the feng shui isn't that suitable or something. Well, I've not gotten around doing that. I think I need a feng shui master to guide me don't I? Or at least a book on feng shui. I mean, who knows, if I suddenly place my laundry basket in another position, some bad shit is gonna be happening again! So I'll leave that feng shui bit out for a while till I get some professional advice.

The weekend is merely a couple of days away and I'm getting very edgy. Help!

Posted by Doreen at 11:36 am