"Murphy's Law"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Dec 18 02:46:48 UTC 2000

A few items following Internet search.

A correspondent states that he heard "If anything can go wrong, it will" in
1954 at Rensselaer. He states (by recent e-mail) that it was called
"Murphy's Law" at that time. He did not see it in print at the time. He
states: "I assumed at the time Murphy was fictitious, as a tale at the time
was that Dr. Murphy was killed one night walking down a country road on the
left presumably facing oncoming traffic when he was struck in the rear by
an English lady driving a Hillman Minx." (This story is apparently common.)

A rather vague story which I didn't follow up: a contributor says he heard
of Murphy's Law from his father, who "probably" heard of it in the
military, either ca. 1929 or ca. 1945.

I find several instances of an extension of Murphy's Law (usually "Murphy
was an optimist"), sometimes carrying the name "O'Reilly" ("O'Reilly's Law"
or "O'Reilly's Comment"), less often "O'Toole" ... this is beginning to
look like an ethnic joke. [There is a separate "O'Reilly's Law of the
Kitchen": "Cleanliness is next to impossible".]

Similar sense is apparently given to "Spode's Law" among amateur
astronomers, with several specializations along the lines of "Atmospheric
turbulence is inversely proportional to cloud cover", "If something is
spilled it will be spilled on the most expensive map", etc., etc.

-- Doug Wilson

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