Antedating of the Term "Murphy's Law"

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Fri Dec 14 12:46:14 UTC 2007

Quoting Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>:

> 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

If Google Books is right (seems plausible, matches Worldcat description):

The Concerto p. 141
by Abraham Veinus - 1944 - 312 pages

Actually the evolution of the sonata-form concerto from JC Bach to the
if it is subject to one ruling principle at all, seems governed by the
mythical fourth law of thermodynamics which, according to the honorable
tradition of both the laboratory tyro and the research expert, teaches that
anything can happen and usually does.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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