Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sorry Meatloaf: Sometimes two out of three IS bad.

People love to group things in threes:  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Morning, noon, and night.  Father, son, and holy ghost.  The three little pigs.  The three bears.  The Three Stooges.  Celtic folklore has extensive catalogs of triads:  The Three Greatest Virtues, The Three Greatest Betrayals, and so forth.  There's just something about three that appeals to us.  It allows more definition than a binary, yet isn't so large a number as to become unmanageable.  Fours tend to split into two pairs.  Fives tend to split into a triad and a pair.  Three apparently is, as Schoolhouse Rock taught us, "a magic number."

Somewhere along the way, people discovered the rhetorical power of having a group of three where one of the members doesn't quite fit:  The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Done properly, this is a powerful technique.  Done improperly, it blows up in your face.

I starting thinking about this while driving my son to school yesterday.  There's a restaurant near our house with a three-part name.  Since I don't want to single them out in this post, especially since I've never eaten there and I've heard it's a great place, I'm going to disguise their name here and call them "Bob's Sammiches, Shiraz, and Beer."

You can see here that Bob tried for the "three with one mismatch" technique, with the first two items alliterating and the third not.  There's also a rhythmic mismatch here:  Two multisyllable words and one monosyllable.  But it doesn't quite work, because the first two items aren't enough alike.  They're both multisyllable food words that start with 'S', but "sammiches" is a folksy bit of slang while "Shiraz" is a foreign word, lending it an air of exoticism that stands in stark contrast to the Americana of "sammiches."

So what could Bob have done instead?  I think in this case he'd be better off choosing two of his three items and avoiding the triad form altogether.  Which two?  Let's see:

  • Bob's Shiraz and Beer:  This is probably the least good option. It sounds good, but it omits the food entirely.  This sounds more like a liquor store than a restaurant.  It even sounds more like a liquor store than a bar.  Not at all what Bob is going for.
  • Bob's Sammiches and Beer.  This could work, if Bob was going for a "down-home" style, playing up the stereotypical folksiness implied in the name.  But I've seen Bob's place, and I've read the reviews, and I don't think this is at all what Bob is going for.  Which leaves...
  • Bob's Sammiches and Shiraz.  I think this gets across the idea that Bob is trying to convey:  A mixture of folksiness and fanciness.  Fine food served in a fun atmosphere, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, Bob didn't come to me before naming his restaurant.  Still, I wish him all the best and (assuming it lives up to the initial reviews) hope that his restaurant is around for many years to come, becoming a local fixture.

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