Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

The ‘third’ dimension

Mankind’s proclivity for using the ordinal number corresponding to 3 has either portrayed the seriousness or worthlessness of a matter or incidence

Story: PACHU | MENON | 24th September 2018, 03:49 Hrs

For long now the ‘third’ factor has fascinated me as nothing else has in general analogy when explaining the order of existence of a number of things and situations. However, the practice of considering a factor as a variable under examination in a study in mathematics sounds more logical to this inference as this unique characteristic takes different values in different situations.   As the ‘Third Reich’ refers to the Nazi regime in Germany between 1933 and 1945, any mention of the ‘Third Republic’ would mean the French system of government set up after Napoleon III’s reign; it lasted until 1940.    

More than anything else, it is mankind’s proclivity for using the ordinal number corresponding to 3 that has either portrayed the seriousness or worthlessness of a matter or incidence.

Let us take some common instances of the multifarious variations of the prefix ‘third’ that add sufficient overtones to seemingly mild words.  How often have we alluded to people who do not subscribe to our line of thinking, or those who do not come up to our expectations, as ‘third class’? The remarks are that derogatory! 

However, the ‘third man’ in the game of cricket is a deep fielder positioned on the off side behind the slips! There, now please do not ask me to elaborate on the varied appliances of the word ‘slips’!  And the ‘third umpire’! 

With the game of cops-and-robbers turning a bit more realistic in modern times, it is not hard to envisage every trace of organized crime being carried over into another realm, the domains of the ‘underworld’. But the ‘Underworld’ cannot be called ‘Third World’!

However, when a suspect is subjected to ‘third degree’ treatment during the course of a police interrogation, it is indicative of the brutal torture of suspects in police custody to extract information, incriminating or otherwise. 

On the other hand, one reads about ‘Third World’ countries – underdeveloped countries, with the thrust being more on the poverty aspect of the nation than anything else. 

Medical sciences do not lag far behind in as much as this numerical fascination is concerned!  For instance, in medical parlance, though burns are classified depending on the severity of the damage to the skin, ‘third degree’ burns are the most serious involving all the layers of the skin and underlying tissue. 

The similarity in the usage of term when one mentions about the interrogative methods of the police and the intensity of a burn does give the prefix ‘three’ an ominous meaning.  

Likewise, a third degree heart block signifies a complete heart block. 

Human beings are known to have two eyelids, although the ‘third eyelid’, in zoological terms, is the nictitating membrane. A ‘third hand’, though has nothing to do with a physical abnormality in a person as is presumed, it only signifies the ownership of an item or commodity after two previous holders held custody of them.  

If these magnitudes are suggestive of the severity of a situation, how is it that the term ‘third class’ in educational phraseology denotes those levels of students who have just about scrapped through their Board and University examinations? 

To be fair to such students, and their ‘bad luck’ as many are wont to say in their moments of despair, the educational authorities in the country have been magnanimous in rephrasing this terminology as the ‘pass class’.  

When one thinks about it, even the Indian Railways has done away with the custom of having third class compartments; not that the unreserved bogies could be termed anything better! 

Having a class of travelling that interprets a comfortable journey as a luxury, a privilege of the ‘moneyed gentry’, is common enough feature around the world; so why should things be different in this country? 

When this nuance is extended to mean the least costly of accommodations while on a tour, one turns a full circle to realize that the usage of the phrase ‘third class’ in this context implies inexpensive tastes, to be read between the lines as one wishes.  

Having heard of only the masculine and feminine gender, the latest practice of a ‘third gender’ in all official documents gives suggestion of a sexual category that is as much veiled in ambiguity as it is in discussion. 

Should that be leaving our ‘highly admired’ political class out of contention! No, not by any yardstick!

For, no sooner are elections announced in the country, the concept of an alternative choice appears to take shape and the ‘Third Front’ becomes a common parlance in the press, not to speak of the street-corner congregators who are ready with the possibilities of various permutations of political parties and aspiring candidates.  

Cine-buffs who are being served a rich menu of 3-D movies these days recognize such films as three-dimensional stereoscopic motion pictures that enhance the illusion of depth perception, giving a magical feeling to the whole proceeding. 

To cut a long narration short; it cannot be denied that the ‘third’ prefix does indeed attach a touch of 3-D to the meaning of any term! 

Wide-ranging representations of the word ‘third’ to correspond with the extent of the harshness to the unadorned lack of finesse; and to include vague definitions that couldn’t have been deciphered but for the glossary of words the English language offers, sets it apart in a dominion of its own. 

Not in the “Third World” mind you, but totally in a different orbit, an unusual dimension altogether!   

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