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Murphy’s Law

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• If anything can go wrong, it will.
• If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.
• If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
• If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
• Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
• If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
• Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.

Murphy’s law, sometimes referred to as Sod’s law, is a popular cultural adage. The exact history of the saying may never be known, as there are several different stories explaining how it came about.

The most popular theory is that the saying was coined in 1949 at Edwards Air Force Base, by Capt. Edward A. Murphy. Capt. Murphy was an engineer at the base working on a project to determine how much sudden deceleration can be withstood by an individual during a crash. Apparently, after seeing an incorrectly wired transducer, he said of the responsible technician, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.” The project manager added that adage, as Murphy’s Law, to a list of other adages that he was in the habit of keeping.

In 1952, Yale Book of Quotations, first listed the adage as “Murphy’s Law,” in a quote by an unnamed physicist, from a book by Anne Roe:

“There were a number of particularly delightful incidents. There is, for example, the physicist who introduced me to one of my favorite “laws”, which he described as “Murphy’s law or the fourth law of thermodynamics” (actually there were only three last I heard) which states: “If anything can go wrong, it will”.

Prior to that time, however, there is evidence of several uses of the phrase in the common language. For instance, a verse printed in an 1841 Norwalk, Ohio paper stated:

“I never had a slice of bread,
Particularly large and wide,
That did not fall upon the floor,
And always on the buttered side.”

In 1877, Alfred Holt, in a report during a meeting of an engineering society said the following:

“It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later, so it is not to be wondered that owners prefer the safe to the scientific…. Sufficient stress can hardly be laid on the advantages of simplicity. The human factor cannot be safely neglected in planning machinery. If attention is to be obtained, the engine must be such that the engineer will be disposed to attend to it.”

Then, in 1908, British stage magician, Nevil Maskelyne, wrote:

“It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion, such as the production of a magical effect for the first time in public, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Whether we must attribute this to the malignity of matter or to the total depravity of inanimate things, whether the exciting cause is hurry, worry, or what not, the fact remains.”

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