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I'm looking at the phrase "THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY". The thing I'm trying to think of is the joke format where you list a bunch of things and then change the last word for humorous effect. I believe that this phrase fits the same format, as "ugly" can be replaced with something absurd. The reason I need the name for this is so I can articulate the significance of the phrase in an infographic.

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    It's usually known as a setup, or a straight line. This has a "1, 2, 3*" structure, with the asterisk on "3" indicating a change-of-pace (an American idiom for a slow ball in baseball, btw, often pronunced "change-up"). – John Lawler Oct 1 '13 at 16:19
  • I recall "Love, life, and Fruit of the Loom". – Ste Oct 1 '13 at 16:55
  • Rather disappointingly, TV Tropes just calls this "The Triple". – jwodder Oct 1 '13 at 23:47
  • @jwodder Yeah, that's what I was thinking of. – user44758 Oct 3 '13 at 15:43
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In rhetoric, this omne trium perfectum (all in threes is perfect or rule of three) is referred to as crescendo, auxesis or climax - an arrangement in order of increasing importance.

Auxesis also refers more generally to placement of words or phrases in certain order to obtain climactic effect.

When restricted to three phrases it can be referred to as tricolon. Tricolons can have crescendo and decrescendo variants.

This manner of speech is also sometimes referred to as hendiatris.

hendiatris (Greek for one through three)

Examples:

sex, drugs, rock n roll.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Wine, women and song

life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness

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The three elements of the phrase “the good, the bad, and the ugly” are an instance of what is called the “rule of three”, a literary device which engages the hearer using a pattern that is easy to commit to memory. The significance of three seems to be that the hearer cannot be expected to see a pattern in fewer things. You will find the rule of three used heavily in any kind of storytelling.

Christopher Booker points out that there are four basic variations on the rule of three: simple, progressive, contrasting, and dialectical.

Using Booker’s organizing principle, it’s not quite clear how to categorize “the good, the bad, and the ugly”. It looks like a progressive three: from good, to bad, to worse. But it might be a contrasting three: bad contrasts with good, ugly contrasts with bad. Or even a dialectical three: good is the thesis, bad is the antithesis, and ugly is the synthesis: the bad which could have been good.

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