Date: Sun, 12 Jan 1997 04:16:40 -0500
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: Murphy's Law
Eddie Murphy has a new movie coming out this week called METRO. It's
advertised on the huge 59th Street Bridge (Roosevelt Island tram) billboard
by my home. The billboard has a dubious reputation--almost every flick
advertised on it has been a bomb. Which brings me to--
Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong will."
I'll antedate the term and beat OED by a year.
Murphy himself was supposed to drop by to say hello to y'all. He's
late--let's see if he comes by before I finish.
Cecil Adams's Straight Dope Message Boards have discussed this item
since 12-30-96. On that date, KCB615 provided some corollaries:
1. Nothing is as easy as it looks.
2. Everything takes longer than you think.
3. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will
cause the most damage will be the one that goes wrong.
4. If you have 4 ways that something will go wrong, and you find solutions to
all 4, a 5th problem will promptly develop.
5. Left to themselves, things will go from bad to worse.
6. Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.
7. Every solution breeds new problems.
8. It is impossible for something to be foolproof because fools are so
9. Mother Nature is a bitch.
KCB615 later wrote:
I forgot one...
Thinly sliced cabbage.
Another poster added "Anything that can go wrong will...and in the
WORST possible way."
Some people have said that "Murphy was an optimist."
Another post reminded not to forget "Murphy's Mother-in-Law," which is
"See, I told you so!!"
Who is Murphy? Where did he come from?
Murphy is a fairly new Americanism--the second half of the 20th
century. Nothing before 1950 (that I know of, at least) has him. I've done
WWII; Kilroy is there, but not Murphy.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? Reflections of an Irrepressible Name Collector by
Paul Dickson doesn't list Murphy's Law under eponyms (pp. 100-107), nor
anywhere else. WHAT'S IN A NAME? Everything You Wanted to Know by Leonard R.
N. Ashley didn't have EVERYTHING I wanted to know. Murphy is not in the
names into words on pp. 194-197.
Eureka tracked twelve titles, dating from 1979--1994. In 1977, a
popular poster contained Murphy's Laws, and this later "morphed" into a book
by Arthur Bloch. In 1993-94, computer books such as MURPHY'S LAWS OF DOS,
MURPHY'S LAWS OF EXCEL, and MURPHY'S LAWS OF WORDPERFECT were printed.
OED comes very close, and nearly hits it right on the head:
3. MURPHY'S LAW: a name humorously given to various aphoristic expressions of
the apparent perverseness and unreasonableness of things (see quots.). orig.
1958 _Nation_ (N.Y.) 7 June 506/1 There is an old military maxim known as
Murphy's Law which assets that where-ever there is a bolt to be turned,
someday there will be someone to turn it the wrong way.
1961 LEEDS & WEINBERG _Computer Programming Fun_ viii. 241 What we desire is
the presentation of the information in such an accurate and complete form
that the reader will be able to use the subroutine correctly without
hesitation or question. Recalling "Murphy's law"--"If something can go wrong
or be misinterpreted, it will"--should be enough stimulus for the goals we
1962 J. GLENN in _Into Orbit_ 85 We blamed human errors like this on what
aviation engineers call "Murphy's Law." "Murphy" was a fictitious character
who appeared in a series of educational cartoons put out by the U. S. Navy...
Murphy was a careless, all-thumbs mechanic who was prone to make such
mistakes as installing a propellor backwards.
The 1958 and 1962 citations lead us to what I believe is the answer. A
WorldCat search turned up this:
TITLE: Maintenance safety in aviation:
PLACE: Washington, D.C.
PUBLISHER: United States Navy.
PUB TYPE: Audiovisual.
FORMAT: 8 min. : sd. col. 16 mm.
NOTES: United States Navy training film.
Shows how improper installation of aircraft equipment can cause
SUBJECT: Aeronautics--Safety measures.
OTHER: United States. Navy.
Transfilm, inc., New York.
Murphy's Law. (Motion pictures)
Murphy's Law is from 1957--now 40 years old. See also Eric
Partridge; he has entries on the later terms of "Sod's law" and "Spode's
And so, with our OED antedate firmly in hand, we end our--
MURPHY: Sorry I'm late. I got stuck in traffic.
POPIK: Murphy's Law #2: Everything takes longer than you think. Tell the
folks what you've been doing these past forty years.
MURPHY: I was your publicist.
POPIK: Not for forty years!
MURPHY: I was also your family's managed care physician.
POPIK: What else?
MURPHY: I was also publicity director for the New Jersey Nets. Can I sit
POPIK: Sure. There's a Murphy bed. I understand you've done some tv
MURPHY: Father Murphy Mysteries. Murphy Brown.
POPIK: Which also brought you into politics.
MURPHY: I'm helping Newt Gingrich RIGHT NOW!
POPIK: Forty years and you're still not married! You've blown your chances!
MURPHY: Things always go wrong. It's not as easy as it looks. Things take
longer than you think. Things have gone from bad to worse.
POPIK: Do you have any friends?
MURPHY: Kramer. From Seinfeld.
POPIK: I know you don't eat meat, so I made some Murphy potatoes.
MURPHY: Potatoes! That was the Murphy Brown I did! I--AAAAH!
POPIK: Murphy? Murphy? It's a Murphy bed! It goes back into the wall!
Murphy? I have a date later tonight! I can't have problems in bed! This
never occurred to me before--I've gotta buy a Castro, or a Jennifer!
Anything but a --! MURPHY? MURPHY, GET OUT OF THERE!!!!!!!