I am delighted to introduce the first guest post of this blog, written by Diana Rubanenko, a translator and editor who draws on a ‘rich tapestry of employment’ and a fascinating life – for more details see here: http://rubanenko.com/.
Ever since taking a course on fairytales, some eons ago, the triadic principle has fascinated me. In fairytales, it’s found in the three witches, three princes, three wishes, Goldilocks and the three bears and so on. In the psychoanalytical approach to fairytales, the threes symbolise the young child’s triadic relationship with her parents. Plato and Aristotle and their contemporaries believed that the number three was the first-born of the parent numbers of one and two (http://www.don-nix.com/?p=2639).
When I began translating law texts and encountered those splendid doublets (annoy or molest; bind and obligate) and triplets (hold, possess and enjoy; right, title and interest) so common in English legal texts, I found several theories for their prevalence in Bryan Garner’s ‘A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage’. Known as ‘amplification by synonym’, Garner says that one purpose was to ‘pair a French or Latinate term with an Anglo-Saxon approximation…’, such as ‘act and deed’ (Latin and Old English). However, philologist George Philip Krapp counter-argued that doubling ‘occurred abundantly in Old English, when no substantial foreign element existed in the language’. And there’s another explanation: ‘This multiplication of useless expression probably owed its origin to the want of knowledge of the true meaning and due application of each word’ (Charles Davidson, 1860). So authors with uncertain command of the language perhaps chose ‘to seek safety in verbosity…’.
More mundanely, in many non-legal texts that I translate to English – triplets occur to a surprising extent; often a noun is qualified by three adjectives when one would certainly do the trick. People born and educated in Israel have told me that schoolteachers encouraged them to write as lengthy essays as possible to ‘make sure they got everything in’. Perhaps this approach lingers on and accounts for sentences like this – ‘it is a beautiful, attractive, stunning flat’. So I use the Delete key energetically, and appreciate those précis lessons from years ago. Do schoolchildren still learn précis, I wonder…?