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The Rule of Three in real life.


  • Body, Mind, Soul. Are the last two one and the same? Depends on whom you ask.
  • Birth, Life, Death.
  • Past, Present, Future.
  • Land, Sea, Sky.
  • Lithosphere, Hydrosphere, Atmosphere.
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Averted in some countries, like in France, where you get "le goûter", or "the afternoon snack" (around 4:00 PM), which counts like mealtime.
  • Three primary colors.
  • Three domains (highest rank in taxonomy)
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  • Three point one four.
  • Who hasn't heard this? "Okay ready? On Three..."
  • Survival's Rule of Threes for the untrained folk: Three seconds without blood (flow), three minutes without air, three hours without warmth, three days without water, three weeks without food, three months without love.note 
  • In the Netherlands at least (possibly also in other European countries?), there's a figure of saying / superstition that when you sneeze three times, it predicts good weather.
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  • There is a saying "One time is chance, Two Times is a coincidence, Three times is suspicious/a conspiracy" which suggests that 3 times is the least amount of times something has to happen before it is established as something more than coincidence. In the UK, it's "once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action". At least one James Bond story was built on this: Goldfinger, where Auric refers to this (the UK variant stated above) as being a phrase from Chicago. The US military teaches a similar pattern regarding predictable behaviors like patrol schedules and routes; First time, you're seen. Twice is a pattern. Third time, you're dead.
  • In the UK, the school year is traditionally divided into three terms: Winter, Spring, and Summer (or Michaelmas, Hilary, and Trinity (or even Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter) if you go to an old established school or university).
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  • Same thing in India, except it's called 1st Term, 2nd Term, and 3rd Term. There are also three big exams each year, known as end-of-term exams or simply term exams, and three sets of holidays following the end of each term. The third one is the big summer vacation, which marks the end of the school year.
  • Apparently the United States Marine Corps uses it too (albeit with the fire team level as an exception). This is referred to as "triangularization" and was adopted by everyone from the German Wehrmacht in the 1930s. Previously, it was the rule of fours.
  • In NASCAR, there has been a coincidence that every three years from Dale Earnhardt's 1998 Daytona 500 victory, someone close to him won the Great American Race: Michael Waltrip (DEI driver) at the race where Earnhardt died in 2001, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (his son) in 2004, Kevin Harvick (his replacement at Richard Childress Racing) in 2007, and Jamie McMurray (Earnhardt Ganassi driver) in 2010. A number of teams operate in the Sprint Cup Series with three teams: for instance, Roush Fenway has three teams (Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards), as does Richard Childress (Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton).
  • The Rock, Paper, Scissors game (or Stone, Scissors, Paper, depending on where you are). Or the Malay version, which uses bird, water, rock.
  • Look up any Weight Training routine, a vast majority of them will consist of each exercise being 3 sets of x reps, with 3 sets of 10 being the most popular.
  • Listing things in groups of three for emphasis is generally considered a useful technique for giving a speech. Though it's often subverted by repeating the same thing, three times. One of the better examples was Tony Blair's declaration that his three priorities for government were, "Education! Education! Education!"
  • There's Stephen King's famous advice to wannabe writers: "Read, read, read! Write, write, write!"
  • Danton's speech before the legislative assembly on September 2, 1792: "Gentlemen, what is needed is audacity, audacity again and audacity always, and France is saved." (Messieurs, il faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace et toujours de l'audace et la France est sauvée.)
  • Count Raimondo Montecuccoli (1609–81), who wrote that to wage war you need three things: Money, money and money.
  • The three most important things to remember about real estate purchases: "Location. Location. Location."
  • Ancient Jewish and Arabic custom allowed a man to divorce his wife by simply declaring 'I divorce you' thrice. It has resulted in at least one incident where a man accidentally divorced his wife. (Or well, almost divorced her; turns out Islamic law, like any other half-decent legal system, does not allow you to make decisions like that while you're asleep.) While not current in divorce, three is still important in Jewish court matters. The smallest size of a court is three (since it's the smallest plural odd number, meaning no ties). Also, Hataras Nedarim, a process done on Rosh Hashana Eve, involves collaring three friends who sit as a court and asking them that one's unfulfilled promises be annulled. The "court" repeats a small passage three times which effects the annulment. Similarly, a shorter version involves just saying the words "mutar lach" (you are released) three times. And there are three basic duties of a Jewish husband toward his wife — feeding her, providing her with cover, and satisfying her sexually. It's also common for courts other legal systems to use three judges, such as the Magistrates' Courts in the United Kingdom.
  • In sports, there's the Triple Crown (horse racing), and the "hat trick" (various sports, all involving 3 of an action, usually but not exclusively scoring). Also (in Baseball) the Hitting Triple Crown — highest batting average, most home runs, most runs batted in — and the Pitching triple crown: most wins, most strikeouts, lowest earned run average. There is also the Rugby Union Triple Crown, fought out (as part of the annual six nations games) between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The result is settled after each of the four teams has played three matches (one against each of the other three), hence the name.
  • Baseball seems to run on this trope. Here are some examples:
    • 3 strikes and you're out.
    • 3 outs per inning.
    • 3 bases plus home.
    • More than 3 balls is a walk.
    • Thrice 3 innings in a game (without extra innings due to a tie).
  • In Cricket there's the hatrick: 3 wickets, 3 consecutive balls.
  • In American football, any score on the free play after a touchdown is worth one third of the normal value.
  • In basketball, the most points you can score with one basket is 3 points. There's the triple-double, for getting 10 or more in any three stats: usually points, assists and rebounds. (Technically, more than triple is possible, but triple is the most commonly talked about "limit", since steals and blocks are difficult to get 10 or more of.)
  • In bowling, three consecutive strikes is called a "turkey", and it's possible to bowl three times in the tenth frame, if you score a strike or a spare.
  • The Roman orator Cicero often used trios of phrases when wanting emphasis in speeches. While he may not have initiated the habit, many, many admirers picked it up.
  • Averted by Winston Churchill upon becoming the UK's Prime Minister: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." But this trope is probably why it's usually incorrectly quoted as "blood, sweat and tears."
  • As mentioned on The Other Wiki, Abraham Lincoln used the tricolon in more than one of his speeches, including the Gettysburg Address. "But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground." "Government of the People, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth".
  • A number of nations or states use the rule of three for their mottoes, such as the French Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity) or the Congolese "Justice, Paix, Travail." (Justice, Peace, Work). During World War II, the Vichy regime adopted a new motto: Travail, Famille, Patrie (Work, Family, Country). Of course, things were pretty bad in France, so La Résistance and various wags turned it into Trouvailles, famine, patrouilles (Lucky finds, famine, patrols).
  • From the Declaration of Independence, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" (borrowed from John Locke, who used "Life, Liberty and Property")
  • And the German Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit (Unity and Justice and Freedom).
    • The Nazi Regime was called the Third Reich.
    • "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer". One people, one empire, one leader. Which may owe something to a slogan from the French ancien régime: "Un roi, une loi, une foi." (One king, one law, one faith.)
    • From an earlier time in German history: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (the proper concerns of women: children, kitchen, and the church)
  • Lotsa "Three Strike" systems when it comes to rules in general. Two warnings, and the third time is when the proverbial poop hits the fan.
  • Hockey goaltenders may be pulled from a game after allowing three goals. And the game is divided into three periods. And the aforementioned hat trick of one player scoring three goals in one game.
  • There are lots of threes in the human body:
    • Three bones in the ear (hammer, anvil, and stirrup), three types of muscle (smooth, skeletal, and cardiac), three layers in the skin (epidermis, dermis, and subcutis), three types of blood cells (white, red, and platelets), hair can be divided into three parts (bulb, root, shaft)... Also, all organ systems arise from one of three primary germ layers in embryonic development — the ectoderm, the mesoderm, and the endoderm.
    • Insect anatomy — head, thorax, abdomen.
  • In mathematics, there are three basic ways to approach a problem: graphically, numerically and algebraically. This is sometimes even called the Rule of Three. In the same vein, most countries teach the topic of Speed, Distance and Time all at once, often arranged into a triangle of three.
  • The saying 'Third time lucky!' -Which is the idea that if you fail twice, you will succeed the third time, not that it's actually true. It's also heard as "Third time's the charm!" in America.
  • Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll.
  • Black, blanc, beur (africans, europeans, arabs): motto parodying the colors of the French flag in order to celebrate the cultural diversity of France.
  • The powers of a State, are commonly divided in: Judicial, Executive and Legislative. The legislative process in the US has to be approved in three stages: the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President. In the UK it's the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Queen (or in old terminology: "Crown, Lords, and Commons"). In both cases, the former two can be swapped around.
  • Several of the US space shuttle orbiter's systems are triply redundant, notably the Space Shuttle Main Engines, the fuel cells which generate electricity, and the auxiliary power units which provide hydraulic pressure to manipulate the orbiter's aerosurfaces and gimbal the three main engines.
  • The signal for Help in Morse code consists of three letters (SOS) and each letter is composed of three dots or dashes. Three somethings is a convention for a disaster signal: three fires, three gunshots, three blasts...
  • Next time someone comes to your door, see if they knock in groups of three.
  • Medical schools operate on the principle of "first you watch a procedure, then you perform it, then you teach someone to do it".
  • The three kinds of science: Life, Physical, and Earth. And then social. Social sciences are usually grouped as Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology, as well. Alternatively, the three pure natural sciences: Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
  • Chess is defined as a subtle mixture of sport, art and science (the three areas of knowledge).
  • There are three kinds of tectonic plate boundaries: convergent, divergent and transform. Within that, there are three kinds of convergent boundaries as well.
  • The Mozambique Drill follows this for close quarters combat. Two quick shots to the torso, followed by a slower and more well-aimed headshot to stop the target.
  • In Athenian democracy, Kleisthenes created a new kind of subdivision of the city's territory and free population called the phylai in order to create a stronger sense of belonging together. Each phyla consisted of a district of the city of Athens, one of the coastal and harbour region, and one of the inland agricultural region, Attica.
  • In many pre-modern Europe that part of society that had the right to participate in government (legislature) in some form was usually divided into three estates — clergy, nobility, and the rest.
  • Appears quite a bit in the United States Constitution. First, there are classes of senators. Three of them. Senators of each class are elected on different election years (but always even years, unless a senator dies in office). (For the record, should a fifty-first state be added, its senators would be in the first and second classes.) There are also nine Supreme Court Justices.
  • It's taught as a rule of drafting in some law schools on the basis that it emphasizes that you are covering everything relating to a particular topic. For example a costs indemnity will often read "[Party A] will indemnify, reimburse and hold harmless [Party B] against any losses, costs or expenses [Party B] may incur, suffer or bear..."
  • In C++ programming, it is considered poor practice to define a destructor, copy constructor, or copy assignment operator without assigning the other two; this is actually called the "rule of three" in the thrilling world of C++ jargon. The reason for this is that the compiler usually creates these functions automatically, and the only reason that the programmer should define one is also the reason to define the others. As of C++11, (the 2011 version of the C++ language), this has been expanded into one of the variations on this trope (the rule of five), adding a move constructor and move assignment constructor to the original three.
  • Research into short term memory has in fact determined that memorizing in groups of three is the easiest among all combinations.
  • Generally, the slot machines of most pubs and clubs incorporate this with the Rule of Seven, whereas scoring triple sevens nets the biggest jackpot.
  • Groups of three supposedly have some kind of special significance in Russian culture...allegedly because during Soviet times when things were cheaper if three men each contribute a rouble they could buy a handle of vodka to share and then have exactly enough kopeks left over for zakuski (snacks). (Ok, not quite as noble as the French or German examples, but practical..) Even earlier were the Troika tribunals.
  • "Leaves of three, let it be." for avoiding poison ivy. And poison oak. Also, poison sumac.
  • Franz Boas defined three types of anthropology: Ethnology (later split into social and cultural anthropology), physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Archaeology was folded into anthropology later.
  • In computer engineering, there's this: if a CPU encounters an exception, it calls an exception handler routine. If the handler encounters an exception itself, the CPU calls a special handler. But if the special handler too encounters an exception (such as the interrupt descriptor table being corrupt, making it impossible to call any handlers), that's called a triple fault and the CPU shuts itself down. Some kernels like Linux use it as a last resort in case the PC goes completely bonkers: if an ACPI reboot fails, the kernel sets the IDT length to zero, making the table impossible to access and intentionally triple-faulting the CPU. Not exactly to spec but it works.
  • Attempted and failed by Rick Perry during the Republican Presidential Debate of November 9th, 2011. Governor Perry said that as president, he would eliminate three government agencies: "Commerce, Education, and the-um, uh what's the third one there? Let's see..."
  • Quantum Chromodynamics states that each quark, the elementary particles of which hadrons are made, carries an electric charge which is a multiple of a third of the elementary charge; that each quark is one of three 'colours'; that quarks, like all elementary particles, come in three families; and much of a quark's characteristics is based on a unitary group, a mathematical construct, called SU(3).
  • Older Than Feudalism: In Ancient Rome, many legal matters were performed by simply stating what you were doing thrice in front of witnesses, i.e. if you were marrying someone, you would say "I marry you" thrice.
  • At the beginning of World War 2, RAF fighters generally operated in groups of three. However it was discovered that in combat one pilot would become separated from the other two and fall easy prey to enemy fighters. They then adopted the Luftwaffe's system of groups of four which in combat could easily sub-divide into two groups of two.
  • Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox (Opera, Safari, Maxthon, SeaMonkey, xxxterm...).
  • When challenging someone to recite a Tongue Twister, it's common to dare them to say it three times fast.
  • One that's pretty famous; Veni, Vidi, Vici. I came, I saw, I conquered.
  • A killer isn't considered a Serial Killer until after they have killed 3 people.
  • On The Other Wiki it says that the UN considers a mass grave one that holds at least three execution victims.
  • On a PBS documentary on J. D. Salinger one speaker said that one assassin using a book to justify themselves is just "crazy" while three makes one wonder what on earth they had done (the guy described it like "voodoo" — Salinger "put his depression into Holden", unstable readers internalized it then concluded that "all phonies must die").
  • Neutrons, protons and electrons, as the common elementary particles forming all ordinary matter. They were also thought of as the only elementary particles until the late Forties, when other particles were first discovered. And since The '70s), three families of quarks and leptons.
  • Nikola Tesla was obsessed with the number three. He did everything in numbers divisible by it.
  • The common cold: Three days coming, three days staying, three days going. It's a pretty handy mnemonic and not inaccurate.
  • The 3 main TV networks of the US: NBC,CBS and ABC (Fox and UPN/WB/CW came later and are still kinda second to the 3 big ones). In Britain for about 30 (3x10) years from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, there were three TV channels; BBC One, BBC Two and ITV.
  • The two trinities of forensics/criminalistics: means, motive and opportunity, and victim, suspect, crime scene.
  • The classic (half-joking) declension; "I am firm, thou art obstinate, he is pig-headed." Related to the Yes, Minister joke under Live-Action TV above.
  • Three dimensions of space (that we know about, anyway).
  • Tricolour national flags are very common: Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Colombia. Even when the design is different, many national flags don't have more than 3 main colors.
  • There's a sort of triangle in projects: Time, Quality, and Money, also known as 'Fast, Good, Cheap'. Pick two. You can get something good done cheap if you're willing to wait; you can get something good done fast if you're willing to pay, and if you're not willing to put in the time or money, don't expect it to be any good. A variation for the lives of college/university students: Good grades, enough sleep, and a social life. You can only pick two.
  • One of the most famous quotes of Vladimir Lenin is 'Учиться, учиться и ещё раз учиться!' ('Learn, learn and learn!').
  • Following World War II and the creation of NATO, its various member states created the "Big Three" Battle Rifles — the Belgian FAL, the American M14, and the West German G3.
  • There is an old belief that a drowning person would manage to resurface three times before finally succumbing.
  • The gold, silver, and bronze medals in the Olympics.
  • A good way to remember what "third party" is in terms of your liability insurance: First party is the insured. Second party is the insurance company (the insurer). Third party is everyone else.
  • Used extensively in Military and Emergency Services as a way to ensure that certain things are heard, some examples include:
    • "Eject... Eject... Eject...": Military Pilots shouting this have every intention of Ejecting from their aircraft. Shouting it three times serves three main purposes:
      • To make sure that no single utterance of the word results in someone initiating the Ejection sequence (and throwing away a perfectly good plane)
      • To make sure all crew-members hear it, and no one gets left behind (not all crew in some military planes can simply Eject, and must bail out the old fashioned way).
      • So that their Command knows that they are bailing out, and can get Search and Rescue to start looking for them.
    • Fighter Pilots will sometimes do this when using their weapons, but not always. One example is the call "Guns Guns Guns", which is the call to let everyone know that you are firing your guns at a target.
    • In policing, some precincts practice a rule of calling out "Shots Fire" three times to avoid any confusion over the radio. Something that has cost some police officers their lives waiting for back-up because Dispatch didn't hear the radio call.
    • Some Fire Departments use a similar method to the Eject call mentioned above, in this case, if someone shouts "Evacuate" three times over the radio (followed closely by an evacuation horn blaring three times), it's a clear warning to those inside (or on the roof) that the building in question is about collapse, and that they should leave the building.
    • In Hospitals, some codes must be repeated when called out. These are typically the more life-threatening ones such as "Code-Blue" (Cardiac Arrest), but the reasons are the same as before: To ensure that it's been heard.
    • "Mayday, mayday, mayday" as a distress signal in aviation is similarly repeated three times to ensure that the call for help is understood and not in error. Its less-urgent variant "Pan-pan" is also repeated over a communications channel three times, i.e. "Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan", followed by pertinent information. The calls' usage as described by a pilot can be found here.
    • In the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the successor to the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) and Control of Electromagnetic Radiation (CONELRAD), an alert message includes a digitally-encoded header, followed by an attention tone (absent during tests), official information and instructions where applicable (also absent during tests), and a digitally-encoded end-of-message block. Both the header and EOM block are sent as three bursts of audio-encoded digital data. They are sent three times because there are no error detection codes within these blocks. A "best-two-of-three" method is used for extracting the header and EOM block.
  • Historically, judges sentencing prisoners to death by hanging would decree that they hang by the neck until "dead, dead, dead!" Contrary to popular belief, infamous Hanging Judge Isaac Parker never followed this practice.
  • Statement analysis experts in law enforcement claim that when people are lying, they will often choose the number three (three days, three men, three hours, etc), as it sounds the most plausible for whatever scenario they're putting forward. (two is too few, four is too many)


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