To Wit: An E-zine On How To Be a Wit
February 18, 2007

This is an E-zine from Thomas Christopher on how to be witty:
"wit n the ability to relate seemingly disparate things so as to illuminate or amuse; an imaginatively perceptive and articulate individual..."

True wit is nature to advantage dressed,
What oft' was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.
--Alexander Pope

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.

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More Than Three Ways To Use Triples

Now this is not the end.
It is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

In western culture we find something satisfying about threes. Three feels like many, three feels complete, three feels satisfying. When you are making a point in a talk, you can make it more effectively by wrapping it in a list of three words, or phrases, or sentences. In rhetoric, this technique is known as tricolon.

Use tricolon to emphasize points. If the point is important, you need to slow down your saying of it. People interpret its importance by the amount of time devoted to it. People's minds wander; repeat three times and they will have a better chance of hearing at least once. After the first two repetitions, their minds start suspecting it might be important.

Although just using tricolon is itself of great benefit to a speech, there are tricks for making it even more effective. Here are some ideas on how to use triples -- triads -- lists of three items -- to make your talks more effective. Not all of them will apply to the same list.

Use three items in a list unless there is some good reason to do otherwise, preferably three different aspects of what you're talking about.


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

Use three synonyms, if you don't have three separate aspects to point to. Consider this example from the Gettysburg Address:


we cannot dedicate --
we cannot consecrate --
we cannot hallow -- this ground.

Dedicate, consecrate, and hallow are not three distinct things; although, they do not quite have identical meanings. If all items say nearly the same thing, they can sound a bit contrived, which of course they are. A thesaurus helps here.

Repeat a word three times for emphasis, but only if the word is worth the emphasis. This is called epizeuxis in rhetoric.


In real estate, the three most important things are
location, location, location.


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day...

Use anaphora: begin a series of phrases with the same words, as also shown in Example (2).

Use antistrophe: repeat the last words in the phrases, as in this second example from the Gettysburg Address:


of the people,
by the people,
for the people

Where you have a choice, anaphora is the more powerful of the two.

Use climax: list the phrases by ascending importance of the items, or at least by increasing length. The phrases in Example (2) are six, six, and seven syllables long, and "dedicate" has the weakest meaning.

Use asyndeton, omission of conjunctions, as both examples from the Gettysburg Address show.

Use polysyndeton, putting a conjunction between each pair of items as in Example (4), and in this:


We don't know how or when or where,
but we do know who and what and why.

None of these techniques is difficult, but you may need to try out several of them before settling on one triple. The effect is worth the effort.

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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