One, two, three
A rhetorical device that can spice up your communications
Shakespeare was not a genius. He was, without the distant shadow of a doubt, the most wonderful writer who ever breathed. But not a genius. No angel handed him his lines, no fairies proofread for him. Instead, he learned techniques, he learned tricks, and he learned them well.
—The Elements of Eloquence, Mark Forsyth
We may not be Shakespeare, but we do have one thing in common with him: we can all learn storytelling tricks and use them well.
One of the techniques at our disposal is rhetorical devices. A rhetorical device, or a figure of speech, is a way of arranging words that embellishes written or spoken language. Today, let’s explore one of these figures: tricolon.
Friends, Romans, countrymen.
Blood, sweat, and tears.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
The above sentences are all tricolons. Have you noticed how they’re constructed? There always are three elements—words or groups of words—repeated one after the other. The reason we like them is because tricolons sound smart, powerful, and attractive. But how come?
There’s something special about the rule of threes. Since Ancient Greek times, philosophers and orators have been claiming that threes give us a sense of completeness. Two is not enough. Four is too many (proof: Churchill’s famous sentence was initially “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” but everyone remembers it as “blood, sweat, and tears”.)
Sounds simple enough? Now, you can benefit from the power of tricolons in data storytelling as well.
A chart title could be a tricolon. Can you spot one in this spread by The Economist?
You can also use this technique for chapter headings of a report or presentation. In one of their recent impact reports, IDEO named the sections “Design, Fuel, Inspire”.
Finally, could it be your short catchphrase? Yes. Steve Jobs used it in the famous 2007 iPhone release speech. He kept saying “an iPod, a mobile phone, and an internet communications device all in one”.
At first glance, tricolon can sound like a fancy rhetorical term. But it may just be one of the easiest figures of speech to implement. Try it out and see if it can spice up your next communications piece.
See you next week,
Want to learn data storytelling with me?
I’m reviewing the content for my public course to make it even better, so the subscriptions are on hold for a bit. In the meantime, you can attend one of these live events:
🏴 Two-day data storytelling course in Utrecht on April 16-17.