There used to be a programme on the CBC, hosted by Terry O’Riley, called “The Age of Persuasion” and then later resurrected as “Under the Influence”. It was about advertising, and it was excellent. But remembering it now puts me in mind of something that just floated past me a few years ago:

In the reporting on the possible graves in the orchard adjacent to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, what’s the difference between the phrase, “children as young as three”, and “a child as young as three”? If the former then the claim is that there’s at least one child as young as three buried there. But if the latter then it’s that there’s a child who could be as young as three but as old as whenever one ceases to be child. 

Okay, but then it occurred to me that since it’s entirely likely that there’ll never be a single exhumation at the site – if, that is, the reporter is engaging in pure speculation – why pick the number three? Enter what O’Riley taught me about advertising. 

Anything under three is widely thought of as an infant. For most of human history infant mortality was as likely as not. Grief is a valuable resource. So infants had to be more fungible than they are today. But a child over three has become a person, a person who’s had at least something of a life. So saying three is the perfect age to cathect the maximum tragic impact on the reader.

But what’s especially interesting about this is that ‘three’ was probably not the product of a Madison Avenue ad agency. It’s something that came into the reporter’s mind without thinking. It’s an age he settled on automatically. And, I just gotta say, that our minds are that agile just blows me away!

Social psychologists study this kind of thing. I find their work fascinating. Absolutely fascinating!

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

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3 replies

  1. Don’t you wonder how a child of the age of three, or even more than one child of that age would be taken away from its parents and put into a boarding school? If all the other children were age 6 or older, what with the three-year-old be doing there?


    • Some students were sent to boarding schools to remove them from abusive or neglectful home environments. often due to alcoholism. Whether a residential school would have been a destination for children as young as three I don’t know. But they had to be fostered somewhere. Kindly nuns might have just taken them all in stride and under wing while they taught the school-age kids.

      Three is too young to help bury bodies in the orchard in the middle of the night, for sure though, …the ones that didn’t get thrown into the furnace, that is.


    • To be fair, a three year old COULD be there because she was taken away because of parental neglect. So she’s not a student at the school, but died while in CUSTODY of the school.


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