Writing for Business

Sep 20 2012   6:29PM GMT

Grammar Glossary

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
The phrase “fear, uncertainty and doubt” is an example of:

a. an apposition 
b. an epenthetic 
c. a tricolon

Answer: c.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tricolon describing a marketing strategy in which a vendor attempts to make potential buyers insecure about a competitor’s offering.

A tricolon is a grouping of three related words, phrases or clauses used together to add emphasis or resonance. Often used as a rhetorical or poetic device, carefully chosen tricolons can make statements more powerful and memorable.

Tricolon comes from the Greek words for three and unit. One famous tricolon is Julius Caesar’s Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came; I saw; I conquered.)

There are bicolons (series of two similar items) and tetracolons (series of four, sometimes called quatrains), too.

In Cider House Rules, Dr. Wilbur Larch’s “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England” to the boys in the orphanage is an example of a bicolon.

Groucho Marx used a tetracolon to offer his opinion of politics: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it wrongly and applying unsuitable remedies.”

Richard Nordquist has a terrific series of articles about tricolons, including one about how Barack Obama uses them.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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