Legal eagle

Who was Murphy? A different type of Law

posted in: Law | 0

Buried deep in legal theses, I’ve had a few heavy weeks of editing. Perhaps this was reflected in some of the more recent posts about OSCOLA referencing; so, it’s time for something a little more light-hearted. I was inspired to write this post when proofreading a client’s blog post, and I had to check the punctuation of the phrase Sod’s Law (capital letters and apostrophe). I started to wonder about the origin of the phrase, which of course led to frittering away a good half hour on the internet.

Sod’s Law

Sod’s Law means if anything can go wrong, then it will go wrong. It’s a British colloquial phrase, which I think reflects the somewhat pessimistic nature of the British psyche. I wasn’t able to tie down a specific origin of the phrase, although the consensus of internet opinion seemed to be that it is derived from the phrase ‘unlucky sod’ in the context of the pejorative slang for an unlucky person.

Murphy’s Law

Across the water, our US friends prefer the term Murphy’s Law, which raises the question: who was Murphy? There seems to be no right or wrong answer to this, and there’s even a book asking the same question. The basic principle – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong – can be traced back to at least 1866 and the mathematician Augustus De Morgan. As for the name Murphy, the Yale Book of Quotations attributes it to a 1952 book by Anne Roe which quoted its use by an unnamed physicist, who described the second law of thermodynamics as Murphy’s Law. Other suggestions are that the law’s name dates to 1949 when a development engineer in the US air force, Captain Murphy, used the phrase. Wikipedia has a good summary of the story and the controversy that surrounds its authenticity.

Some alternatives

During the course of my internet meanderings, I discovered a few other ‘laws’ including Finagle’s Law, which states that: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong – at the worst possible time. But my favourite has to be Mrs Murphy’s Law, which states that: anything that can go wrong will go wrong while Murphy is out of town’ – that sums up my household perfectly!

Legal eagle
Buried deep in law theses…