Antedating of the Term "Murphy's Law"

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Tue Dec 18 00:13:12 UTC 2007

I got a copy of the book from the UC Berkeley library. There's no
explanation of who Murphy was, but more slightly more complete quotes than
those given by the Google Books snippets follow:

Roe, Anne, _The Making of a Scientist_ (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company,
1952, 1953.

"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.'"

p. 214:
"It was while working on this part of the study that I ran into the perfect
exemplification of 'Murphy's law' at one university, where everything that
could go wrong did!"

p. 224:
"Certainly this was Murphy's law in operation,--but I will never be the same

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:28 PM
Subject: Antedating of the Term "Murphy's Law"

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.

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

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