Mark Mandel markamandel at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 8 23:00:05 UTC 2019

Nice find there, Fred!

Mark Mandel

On Fri, Nov 8, 2019, 11:33 AM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:

> Stephen Goranson, Bill Mullins, and I have done a lot of work
> demonstrating that the popular story of the origins of "Murphy's Law" is
> apocryphal.  This is true both with respect to the name "Murphy's Law" and
> with respect to the proverb without the name.  The "Murphy's Law proverb"
> is "anything that can go wrong will" or "if something can go wrong, it
> will" or "anything that can possibly go wrong will" or "if something can
> possibly go wrong it will."
> Goranson, Mullins, and I have found examples of the proverb without the
> name as far back as 1862, but these examples are all comments on particular
> areas of human experience such as business law or nautical activities or
> magic performances.  I have now found what seems to be the oldest known
> citation for the Murphy's Law proverb as a universal principle.
> In the British periodical Country Life, April 6, 1929 (found on the
> ProQuest database), there appeared an article entitled "Waking-Up the Boat
> Engine."  On page xlviii I find the following: "For my own part, I always
> have the water pump overhauled before making any attempt to start the
> engine, assuming with cautious pessimism that what can go wrong will do so
> … "  This could be interpreted as a specific assertion about boat engines,
> but I think it more likely that it was intended as a general maxim.
> Fred Shapiro
> Editor
> YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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