“These Things Happen in Threes”

So Michael Jackson died, what? You haven’t heard?

Oh, by the way, Farrah Fawcett died too.

But wait, that’s only two, don’t bad things happen in threes?  Oops, hold on a minute, didn’t Ed McMahon die a few days ago? Phew! I guess celebrities can sleep soundly tonight.

Where does this idea of things happening in threes come from? I googled my ass off but I couldn’t find the origin of this adage. Perhaps it just comes from the fact that the number three is such a nice, round, pretty number. There are so many examples of the pervasiveness of the number three in our culture. The holy trinity, three dimensions, the three little pigs, and so on. There’s even an entire website dedicated to instances of the number three:


People have a tendency to look for patterns, and the saying that bad things happen in threes is just another example of this.

If the adage were true, you should be able to use it to make predictions. When Ed McMahon died we should have been expecting two more celebrity deaths. But what are the criteria for a group of three? When does one group of three end and the next begin? How do you choose who is put in what group of three?

It’s all based on confirmation bias. We have this idea in our heads that things happen in threes, so we look for patterns where there are none.

Our heads are full of these useless tropes. We say them without thinking, and I think it’s time to abandon this one. Each death is sad on its own, and lumping them into a group does nothing but satisfy our need to find patterns.


3 Responses to ““These Things Happen in Threes””

  1. 1 Michael February 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    The law of three’s is from the bible. I copied this from another site but it says it pretty well. It is from the book of Job 1:1;2:1-10:

    God says to Satan in today’s lesson, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Job is a paragon of virtue – no one better on the face of the earth. And yet Job is afflicted in ways that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. First he loses all his possessions, then his children are killed, and finally Job is afflicted with sores from his head to his feet.

    So they took the most honest of men and basically tortured him.

    I’m no bible thumper. However certain portions can lend sanity to current events of our lives even though they were written countless years ago.

    I was brought up Christian. My fiance is a 2nd Level Priestess, Wicken. I kinda believe in most all religions. Not that there are supreme unearthly beings, trees beings gods or depths and levels of hell. More so I think in a time of humanity when people where trying to learn to live in some sort of order, peaceful coexsistence and just trying to get a grasp of the eternal question “why”. People ceated different similiar trains of thought that are basically tales and lore of human morals.

    Heres one for yah,”work hard play hard”. Tell me where that comes from.



    Sorry about the typos

  2. 2 EnlightningLinZ February 23, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    I don’t see anything about the law of threes in the story of Job…it is a really sad story though, and paints the picture of a terrible God (one that would punish his most faithful servant for no reason).

  3. 3 unknown April 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Just to correct a slight misunderstanding of the story:God didn’t punish job, Satan did and he did so in order to prove that once materialism etc which God had given job was taken away, then he would curse God. This however was not the case, and job remained a faithful servant to Yahweh even when everything he had once loved on this earth had been taken away from him. I have heard the job theory before, and prob is likely seeing as other things like that have had a biblical origin, for eg “unlucky 13” came from the 13 present at the last super with the unlucky number 13 being Judas who was to portray Jesus.

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