How often do we hear people say that everything comes in threes, usually good things? Often. Of course, those same people say that bad things come in threes as well but that idiom and its history will have to wait for another day.
From the time we’re little and our parents read to us, people are wired to expect things in threes. The three little pigs who had to deal with a big, bad wolf. Goldilocks and the three bears. The three blind mice who ran up the clock. The three little kittens that lost their mittens. Genies always grant three wishes. The best circus ever is the one that’s a three-ring circus, or so we’ve been told for generations now.
The American Constitution promises a trio of good things: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Even the planet we live on is the third from the sun!
Threescore and ten refers to the average person’s lifespan, and in the Bible, readers are reminded in Ecclesiastes 4:12 that “a cord with three strands is not quickly broken.” Let’s not forget that it was three wise men who traveled to the manger to visit the Holy Family.
How many people know that Trinidad was so named because Christopher Columbus (he who sailed with three ships), upon seeing three mountains on one body of land, decided he would name the islands after the Spanish word for trinity?
The concept is rooted in the Latin principle known as omne trium perfectum or, translated into English, the rule of three. Confucius mentioned the rule of three in 500 B.C. in “Analects” when he wrote: “Ko Wan Tze thought thrice before acting. Twice would have been enough.”
So three is a big deal, and has been centuries. But where did the saying good things come in threes originate?
The bottom line is that there isn’t a definitive answer to that question. It’s superstition that leads people to believe that the number three has any magical properties or powers that other numbers do not have, and people have been superstitious for as long as people have existed.
Should one of Idiomation’s followers, fans, readers, or visitors be able to shed some light on where good things comes in threes was first published, Idiomation would love to read all about it in the Comments section below.