We have a word, “並立 - heiritsu” meaning “to stand / line up in parallel” and “鼎立 - teiritsu” meaning “to stand on three foot facing each other” in Japanese.

For example we say “三者鼎立 – three parties coexist or stand against each other,” when we describe three big countries of England, France and Germany go their own way or stand against each other.

What is the English word to describe “presence of three or more parties on their own way” as an alternative to “in parallel” for two parties?

Let me clarify my point:

My question lies on the point – the phrase “並立‐in parallel” applies to two straight lines facing each other keeping the same distance on both ends, but the word “parallel” wouldn’t apply to the lines linking three points that forms an equilateral triangle, then how we should call the status of three points / lines combining each other in the state which we call “鼎立” both in Japanese and Chinese using the same characters and different pronuciation (teiritsu in Japanese, dingli in Chinese), in English”?

There should be the concept and word equivalent to “鼎立” vis a vis “並立" in Engllish. What will it be?

  • 4
    I am thinking trilateral.
    – jxh
    Mar 24, 2016 at 23:47
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    Three things can stand in parallel. You can have as many parallel lines as you can draw. (Do you mean confront?)
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 24, 2016 at 23:52
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    There's the ever-popular Mexican standoff. Theoretically possible with only two parties, but most often seen with three or more.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 25, 2016 at 0:54
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    WS-2. The problem comes from my ignorance of adoptability of the phrase ‘stand / exist ”in parallel”’ to more than two entities. I was under impression that the phrase, “in parallel” only applies to two things, drawn to the different Japanese wordings of “並立” used exclusively for two things and ”鼎立” exclusively for three things. Thinking over that three lines can go in parallel altogether, I come to realize three, four, five things can stand, exist, go, and run in parallel. Again it seems I was too adherent to “並立” ”鼎立.” So the word, “compatible” can be applied to more than two things as well? Mar 25, 2016 at 1:53
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    This is a non-question. 1. "parallel" is not binary. 2. Being confrontational or opposing does not involve number. 3. what exactly is required is also unclear. Voting to close.
    – Kris
    Mar 25, 2016 at 6:14

6 Answers 6


Based on clarification in the comments, I believe that 並立 and 鼎立 can be reasonably translated to an established English phrase: "To stand as equals."

This is a phrase that can be ascribed to rivals, colleagues, enemies etc. and can contrast with "standing above" or "standing below" in which height or vertical position is a metaphor for status.

For example, one might say that at the outset of the Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton appeared to stand above Bernie Sanders, but he has since proven that he can stand as an equal with her.

Some meaning is lost in that 鼎立 seems to refer to two peers who stand above all others, but in context it is often implied that this is the case. And of course "standing as equals" does not specify a number, though it is most often referring few parties.


After some more thought, I believe trilateral will work for your context of three (and multilateral for more than three).

: involving three groups or countries

The analog for two parties would be bilateral.

When something is bilateral it has two sides or it affects both sides of something. Discussions between two political parties are called bilateral because both sides get to share their views.

Consider the following article describing an agreement signed by China, Japan, and South Korea (bold text is mine):

On 13 May 2012, China, Japan and South Korea signed the Agreement among the Government of Japan, the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the Promotion, Facilitation and Protection of Investment (“Trilateral Investment Agreement“). The Trilateral Investment Agreement is the first legal framework between the three East Asian nations regarding investment and once in force, aims to enhance and protect investments made trilaterally, whilst also paving the way for a potential Free Trade Agreement between China, Japan and Korea. ...

In addition to the more common protections that are covered under bilateral investment treaties already in force between China, Japan and South Korea (“Existing BITs“), such as fair and equitable treatment, most favoured nation treatment and protection against expropriation, the Trilateral Investment Agreement also promises improved government transparency, express protections for intellectual property rights and exceptions that will allow governments of the host State to take prudential measures to ensure the stability of their financial systems. It also identifies international arbitration as the key dispute resolution mechanism for foreign investors.
Herbert Smith Freehills


Edit: After reading the comment conversation I now think the first shot definition was way off.

Though, I believe even more now that "Tripartite" is a correct answer. It means three parties involved in the same thing. Parties here can be both individuals, groups, countries or any number of things. It can then be combined with several other words to fine tune the meaning, such as "Alliance" to mean three groups working on the same side or for the same ideal (in parallel/along the same lines). Further, it can also be combined with words like "Dispute" to mean three groups working against one another, that is, "contesting" (which could harken back to the three-cornered contest that I and others have seen).

For three people facing each other, I would say that it sounds almost metaphorical. Imagine three people standing in a triangle. In order for all of them to face each other they cannot be looking in the same direction as anyone else. This could mean "Because they are not looking in the same direction, they are not focusing on the same ideals and therefore working against one another." Which might mean the word's default is the "in contest" one, but can be altered with other Japanese words or phrases to mean "three working together" or "three in parallel."

Another thing I thought of is also a bit metaphorical, but changes the way I'm using parallel. Parallel lines never touch, by definition and so it would sometimes make sense that they aren't working together, but you can also look at them as trying to get to the same point. Racing to the same point and not working together can be seen as contesting against each other for the same thing. Parallel in this metaphor could mean what he's looking for, but not a standard way to look at the word in English.

But that's still a bit fuzzy. I'll link definitions later if this is still holding up. On my phone and it's tricky to do.

  • 1
    I'm not clear this is what the OP is getting at. At least his most recent comment and example do not suggest that. I have lived in Japan, though have no capability with the written language. Difficulties in translation are ever present. People sometimes say this is due to the different thought processes of Japanese v Western thinkers. I believe it has more to do with the fact that Japanese is an ideographic language (using pictograms), whilst English and European languages generally are alphabetic.
    – WS2
    Mar 25, 2016 at 9:51
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    Sorry, hadn't woke, up yet. It's clear now, that the first part is wrong, from his comments. However, I still think the second part moght be close. He talks about both alliances and opposing forces using the same word. I believe that word he expresses isn't normally standalone and does mean "three people or groups" then with context, you can change it to mean working together (in parallel/with parallel ideals) or working against each other (in contest or contention). It would make a lot of sense that way. Of course, there also might not be an analogue in English...
    – JGaines
    Mar 25, 2016 at 14:01
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    He talks about the US and USSR having been in parallel. The only way that can be understood is as a metaphorical use of parallel. And idiomatically it has traction. But although parallel lines can be in any number, the metaphor doesn't seem to work when you start talking about multiple countries of the EU. Once you leave mathematics and enter the world of metaphor you are governed by idiom. And idiom is neither logical nor symmetrical. And my sense is that symmetry is what the OP is seeking.
    – WS2
    Mar 25, 2016 at 14:30
  • Can you explain a little more about symmetry you mention? I don't have much experience in Japanese, so I might not have encountered this kind of symmetry before. Can you think of an English example of said symmetry?
    – JGaines
    Mar 25, 2016 at 14:40
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    @WS2 The people discussing "tripartite" are obfuscating the issue. Mr. Yoichi clearly mentions more than 3 parts (A,B,C,D,E, and F). Symmetry and Harmony are important concepts, but as the example describes partners who are not always acting in harmony, and often with changing political and economic strengths, I think "Balance" is closer to the idea. Mar 25, 2016 at 21:25

Two parallel lines never cross or intersect with each other and the (minimum) distance between them remains the same to infinity.
(Please note that I emphasize the “and” above solely to address the “binarity” of parallelism, for although “parallel” may not be binary in the sense that an infinite number of lines can be drawn that never intersect with each other, the constant equidistance part of the description of parallel lines can only be satisfied by a maximum of four parallel lines in a three dimensional Cartesian coordinate system and in the grand scheme of things, 4 seems closer to being binary than to being infinite.)
(link to a question on ‘Quora’ about the maximum number of points (and therefore parallel lines?) that can be equidistant from each other and one of its answers that says that the maximum is 4)

Contrary to parallel lines are the ones that eventually cross or intersect with each other and a tripod is formed when three non-parallel lines intersect/cross/come into contact at the same point, therefore I think “in intersection” (in the sense of “coming into/having contact with”) would convey the opposite of “in parallel” in the literal sense, but in a figurative sense, I would equate “in parallel” to “[standing] safely/comfortably apart” and its opposite (in tripod) to “[standing] dangerously close or too close for comfort

For the sake of world peace, two opposing forces (world powers, for example) are perhaps best kept “safely/comfortably apart” from each other, running/standing [in] parallel with the [equi]distance between them maintained by, among other things, the notion of “balance of power.”

(To the extent that “being/working in parallel” might [or even has to] imply to some that the two forces have the same interests and goal, one could argue that they both have the same interests, i.e., self interest/preservation and the same goal, i.e., peaceful coexistence.)

On the other hand, the relationship between entities (such as the EU powers mentioned in the question) whose paths purposely cross and intersect on a regular basis, although giving rise to great opportunities to resolve Europe’s problems and achieve its unity, also gives rise to more opportunities for head-on confrontations and such a close relationship could be characterized as one that’s “dangerously close” or “too close for comfort,” perhaps similar to the feeling some participants experience in a three-legged race, especially when a virtual stranger has been assigned to be their partner.


The terms vie, mexican stand-off and bilateral/trilateral/multilateral have already been proposed or used in the original post.

You have also used the term "power balance", but I would like to suggest the more formal balance of power as an English term that captures some of what I understand of your descriptions of the Japanese terms.

Balance of power 1 A situation in which states of the world have roughly equal power. 'As already noted, Soviet power was certainly an important element in the Cold War balance of power in East Asia.' - ODO

(Note: there is a second way this term term is used: a small party that can tip the balance to one side or the other may be said to hold the balance of power, but this is not the sense I'm discussing in this post.)

Wikipedia quotes Kegley & Wittkopf:

The balance of power theory in international relations suggests that national security is enhanced when military capability is distributed so that no one state is strong enough to dominate all others.

Here is an example of the usage of the term:

First, the general balance of power serves to prevent the system of states from being transformed by conquest into a universal empire ....
- Bull (1977, pp.116-117) as quoted by Niou and Ordeshook in "The Balance of Power: Stability in International Systems (p.82) as Bull's summary of the meaning of balance of power

The phrase includes the notion that the parties (states, in the context of international relations) to this balance are of equivalent power. For example, if the three Chinese states you mentioned in comments were of equivalent strength, each of the three states would be an element of the balance of power in that context. The phrase also has something of a nuance of facing each other, though they don’t always mean confrontation, as you put it.


Considering the tetrahedron analogous to OP's scenario, where the bottom face being the same unit as a "floor", such that the remaining three faces "lean against one another", and share a common vertex: the faces, or lines, can be considered as any abstract or concrete idea, such as presidential candidates, where the common vertex may be considered as the aggregate of their goals or some such thing. This is convergence or intersection, and is an idea from which, I believe, OP has completely diverged via basis of the axioms of tension and uncooperative competition.

We cannot consider three entities such as lines perpendicular to the vertices of a triangle to be "parallel" because [if imagined] they lack a common planar direction (comments on mathematically integrated idioms?). However, the noun "parallels" can still be used to refer to members of a tripartite committee.

If the fact that three people [or entities] are literally "facing one another" in a triangular formation is quintessential, then nouns such as "equivalence", "competition", or even "symmetry", might be used. Colourful and looser nouns such as "wits", or "blood" (They stand in blood) might also be used.

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