Origin of "Murphy's Law" Pushed Back to 1911 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Sun Dec 2 19:03:41 UTC 2007

Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

I have a copy of the book, and will try and verify the quote tonight.  I
had flipped through it when I found the references some time back, but
did not find the quote.  With specifics, I should be able to identify
the quote.

Bill Mullins

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society
> [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Shapiro, Fred
> Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 10:23 PM
> Subject: Origin of "Murphy's Law" Pushed Back to 1911
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <Fred.Shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Origin of "Murphy's Law" Pushed Back to 1911
> --------------------------------------------------------------
> -----------------
> Bill Mullins has made a huge contribution to Murphyology by
> finding multiple examples of sayings very similar to Murphy's
> Law in magic journals going back to 1913.  In one of his
> ADS-L postings on this subject, Bill picked up on a reference
> in one of his citations and suggested that earlier evidence
> might be found in the books of David Devant.
> Indeed this appears to be the case.  I have found a letter to
> the editor by Wallace R. Rust in _Science News_, Aug. 8,
> 1992, in which Rust wrote:  "As a magician, I have long been
> familiar with a passage in the book _Our Magic_  (1911, Nevil
> Maskelyne and David Devant, E. P. Dutton).  In the chapter
> entitled 'Presentation,' we read:  '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 clause is hurry, worry, or what not, the fact
> remains."  (I have not yet verified this in the original
> book, but it seems likely to be accurate.)
> The only slight respect in which this passage falls short of
> being the full-fledged Murphy's Law proverb is that it refers
> to special occasions rather than being a universal truth.
> However, this description is actually closer to universality
> than any of Mullins's magical citations.  Indeed, it is not
> far-fetched to conjecture that the Maskelyne-Devant usage
> might even be the origin of the proverbial expression. The
> fact that Rust was familiar with the passage 81 years later
> suggests that it was well known among magicians, and the 1927
> citaton found by Mullins ("Mr. David Devant once said...")
> indicates that Devant was to some extent associated with the "law."
> Fred Shapiro
> --------------------------------------------------------------
> -------------------------
> Fred R. Shapiro                                         Editor
> Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS
>   Access and Lecturer in Legal Research  Yale University Press
> Yale Law School                                        ISBN 0300107986
> e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu
> http://quotationdictionary.com
> --------------------------------------------------------------
> --------------------------
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> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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