To Wit: An E-zine On How To Be a Wit

This is an E-zine from Thomas Christopher on how to be witty.

At $2 trillion, the creative economy -- design, discovery, and invention -- is approaching 50% of the US economy. The creative class, the workers in the creative economy, comprise about 30% of the US workforce. Wit is not a luxury.

More Ways To Use Triples

The Rule of Three states that you should triples, triads, lists of three things. When you list items, prefer to list three words, or phrases, or sentences rather than more or fewer. In rhetoric, this technique is known as tricolon. It is even more effective when you link the items in some fashion. Here are several ways to link them.

Use rhyme, the repetition of vowel and trailing consonant sounds in stressed syllables, as in


A little house well filled,
a little field well tilled,
and a little wife well willed,
are great riches.
-Ben Franklin


The best physicians are
Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman.

Example (1) uses end rhymes, which lead people to expect formal poetry. Unless you also handle the meter well, the effect is worse than not using rhyme at all. Example (2) uses internal rhyme, which delights with a lighter touch. A rhyming dictionary helps with this.

Use alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds, particularly in stressed syllables. You can find candidates for this just by looking in a thesaurus. Suppose we want to use a triple to say, "It was a time of joy." Here's what I found in under two minutes in a thesaurus:


It was a time of gaiety, gladness, and glee,
a time of blessedness, beatitude, and bliss,
a time of ecstasy, exuberance, and exaltation.

Use anticlimax of length, ending the list with a shorter phrase, to give the list a punch, as in (3)'s "gaiety, gladness, and glee" and "blessedness, beatitude, and bliss." We expect climax, increasing importance or length of the items. Anticlimax gains attention by violating that expectation.

Link the first two items to make the third stand out. In (2) the first two rhyme, and the third one doesn't. Notice the same in this aphorism from Ben Franklin:


Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

This example links the first two items with rhyme and the last two with alliteration.

Use anticlimax of importance for humor: make the first two items significant or serious and the final item trivial and light.


Due to the blizzard
50,000 households lost their electricity;
cities and town across three states ran short of food, fuel, and medicine;
and I didn't get my newspaper for two whole days.

For these techniques, you need two books: a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary. Remember that you can talk about one topic by talking about its opposite. If the thesaurus you consult is in Roget's order, you will find related and contrasting topics close together.

Remember, the best triples are not necessarily quick to find. You may look up and try out a lot of words, and you may try out several of these techniques before settling on one triple. Creativity mainly consists of creating an abundance of alternatives and selecting the best.

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Thomas Christopher, Ph.D.: Seminars, Speeches, Consulting
1140 Portland Place #205, Boulder CO 80304, 303-709-5659,
Books through Prentice Hall PTR, albeit not related to wit: High-Performance Java Platform Computing, ISBN: 0130161640, Web Programming in Python, ISBN: 0-13-041065-9, Python Programming Patterns, ISBN: 0-13-040956-1