Embracing Triplets: How We Sometimes Repeat Ourselves

An old American joke goes like this.

A tourist on the streets of New York asks a resident, “Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”  The New Yorker replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”

 Carnegie Hall stage (source: Wikipedia)

Carnegie Hall stage (source: Wikipedia)

This joke is only funny if you understand the double meaning of “get to” in the opening question.  The tourist’s meaning is concerned with finding the location of Carnegie Hall, a famous venue for concerts.  The New Yorker’s meaning of “get to” is “be invited to.”  Of course, only the best musicians can play there, so it will take lots of practice to “get there.”

The line, “Practice, practice, practice” is famous in American culture, and you might hear it being adapted to other situations. 

Besides English, I know many languages use repetition as a colorful way of emphasizing an idea.  In the West African language of Hausa, the word kaɗun means “little."  To say “very little,” Hausa speakers say kaɗun-kaɗun.  In one aboriginal language of Australia, the word binji means “stomach.”  Binji-binji is the expression for “pregnant.”

 Real estate yard sign (source: Prudential Realty)

Real estate yard sign (source: Prudential Realty)

What is interesting for me is the use of the triple form to emphasize an English speaker’s point of view.  If you ask a real estate agent the most important aspects of a piece of property for sale, the famous response is “Location, location, location.”  In other words, the top three selling features all involve where the property is located.

Triplets in English can also be used for complaining.  “Work, work, work!” someone might grumble to a friend.  “Don’t you ever take time to have fun?”  More examples are given below.

TRIPLETS FOR EMPHASIS: Meaning

Go, go, go!: To encourage people to go/run faster (sports)

Yes, yes, yes! / No, no, no! Strong affirmation (or negation)

Ho, ho, ho.: How Santa Claus laughs

Jobs, jobs, jobs.: Interviewee on radio re: needs in this economy

La, la, la. [with fingers in ears]: I’m not listening to you.

Surprise, surprise, surprise!: In famous military sitcom, Gomer Pyle gets a visit from his cousin

Location, location, location.: The top three considerations when buying real estate

Practice, practice, practice.: The answer when a NYC tourist asks, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?”

Penny, Penny, Penny!: A neurotic physicist tries to get his neighbor’s attention

 (source: Wikipedia)

(source: Wikipedia)

COMPLAINING TRIPLETS (spoken by...)

"Work, work, work! That’s all I do around here!" (tired person)

"Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" (frustrated younger sister)

"Sports, sports, sports! Is that all you watch on TV?" (frustrated wife or girlfriend)

"Bitch, bitch, bitch." (someone tired of another’s complaining)

BLASé TRIPLETS (lack of enthusiasm) (meaning)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. (Curtly spoken: Okay, I got it. Now I gotta get out of here.)

Yadda, yadda, yadda. (And so on and so forth.)

Blah, blah, blah. (Ongoing talking. Meaningless chatter. This is tiresome. Et cetera. And so on.)

Please write to share other examples you can think of.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.