Antedating of the Term "Murphy's Law"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Dec 14 04:48:06 UTC 2007

On Dec 13, 2007 10:27 PM, Shapiro, Fred <Fred.Shapiro at> wrote:
> Google Books appears to show the term _Murphy's law_ in a 1953 book, _The Making
> of a Scientist_ by Anne Roe.  This would be two years earlier than the earliest use of the
> term previously found by anyone.
> I have not yet checked the original book, but will do so and report to this list on it.  The
> Google Books snippets do not show any explanation of why the name Murphy was used,
> but the snippets may cut off valuable information.

"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 the last I heard)
which states: If anything can go wrong it will.'" (pp. 46-7)

Back in 1999 Barry posted some other "thermodynamics" variants from
"Astounding Science Fiction", from the same era:

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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