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trifecta

noun [countable]

1. a bet in which the first, second and third place winners are picked in the correct order

2. the situation of having three major achievements in a profession, sport, or other pastime

'"Lucky me, I hit the trifecta," said George Bush in the immediate aftermath of September 11, according to his budget director. War, recession and national emergency liberated him to soar in the political stratosphere.'

The Guardian 11th March 2004

'New Zealand tennis players completed the trifecta at the Wimbledon junior championships in London today when Marina Erakovic, GD Jones and William Ward all won …'

www.stuff.co.nz 29th June 2004

There was a time when the noun trifecta belonged exclusively to the terminology of gambling, especially horse racing. However, in the last few years, it appears to have made the transition into other kinds of sporting achievement, especially in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, where it is frequently used in baseball commentaries. This highbrow-sounding noun is now even beginning to emerge in a range of topical contexts, used by the media to refer to any threesome of significant actions or achievements.

though traditionally trifecta is connected with winning or success, it has latterly been used in alternative contexts

Though traditionally trifecta has positive overtones, connected with winning or success, it has latterly been used in alternative contexts. In 2001, it was famously used by President Bush in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, as illustrated by the first quote above, a much-cited example in subsequent political commentary.

Though countable, trifecta most commonly appears in singular form with the definite article the, typically in phrases such as complete/do/hit the trifecta. The adjective perfect is a frequent collocate, for example:

'New York did the perfect trifecta that no one has attempted before – raising taxes very steeply, making it harder to smoke indoors and promoting cessation.' The Guardian 13th May 2004

Background – trifecta

Trifecta is a late 20th century term originating from horse racing. The noun triple is a common lexical variant. The word trifecta is formed from a blend of the morpheme tri- ('three') and the noun perfecta. Perfecta is based on the Latin American phrase quiniela perfecta, used to describe a bet in which first and second place winners are picked in the right order. The term superfecta (a blend of super and perfecta) refers to a bet in which the first four winners are picked in the correct order. Superfecta still seems to be largely confined to horse racing and other gambling contexts.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 27th September 2004.

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