[Ads-l] Fw: *correction* "Murphy's Law" 1943, not

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Dec 2 11:05:20 UTC 2021

See below for Stephen Goranson's posting putting to rest the supposed 1943 occurrence of the term "Murphy's Law."  This is a classic illustration of the principle that if a citation is "too good to be true," it probably is not true.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2009 5:22 AM
Subject: *correction* "Murphy's Law" 1943, not

As some recall, I posted from Google Books a published letter dated 1943
containing "Murphy's Law." Long story short, and as Jonathan Lighter, Historical
Dictionary of American Slang editor, and others, suspected, the author added
that when transcribing his letter years later, he told me.

Thanks to Jon, Fred, Bill, Dave, Joel, Ben, Jesse, and to the author
Bill Sabel and his son Doug, for a variety of helps in getting this cleared up.

For those still interested, that leaves the trail of usage of the collocation
"Murphy's Law" spoken by Caltech theoretical physicist, mathematician, and
military consultant Howard Percy "Bob" Robertson, in an interview with
psychologist Anne Roe some time from January 27, 1949 (his 46th birthday, "age
46" recorded at the interview) and probably before March 16, 1949 (based on a
Dec. 16, 1948 letter offering an interview within 3 months). The evidence is in
Anne Roe's publications, her papers at the American Philosophical Society
archive in Philadelphia, and his papers in the Caltech archive.

Who will antedate 1949?

Stephen Goranson

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

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

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