There are days when everything seems to go wrong. You are in a hurry and all the traffic lights are red. You plan a picnic and it rains. You drop your slice of toast and it lands butter side down. These are all examples of Murphy’s Law.
It is not a real law, of course. It is just an expression, which is used in unlucky situations. According to Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” While it is not based on science, it does have a scientific background.
The phrase came from the US military: Edwards Air Force base was testing rocket sleds in the California desert in 1948. Aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy was in charge of installing sensors to measure speed. It was a difficult job, which took a lot of time, effort and precision. Finally, the sensors were ready. The test was carried out. Despite all the preparations, it went wrong. The sensors had been put on backwards.
Murphy was frustrated. He said something like: “If there are two or more ways to do something and one of those ways can end in catastrophe, someone will do it that way.” He was overheard by Dr. John Paul Stapp, who also worked on the project. At a press conference, he told reporters that they adhered to “Murphy’s Law” to avoid common mistakes. Word spread and the adage was born.
The concept is not unique. Mathematician Augustus DeMorgan wrote in 1867: “Whatever can happen will happen if we make trials enough.” In the 1950s, the science fiction community wrote about Finagle’s Law of dynamic negatives, which says: “Anything that can go wrong, will — at the worst possible moment.” In Britain, another manifestation of the rule is known as ‘Sod’s Law’. It states that, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. An ‘unlucky sod’ is someone who has bad luck.
Both Finagle’s Law and Sod’s Law are more fatalistic. They say that what can go wrong will always go wrong. Murphy’s Law suggests it may happen. It is a warning that you should always check and double check before doing anything important, whether preparing for a test or organising a wedding. In other words, it is a call to excellence. Even more positive is Yhprum’s Law. Yhprum is Murphy, backwards. It says the complete opposite: “Anything that can work, will work.” Ed Murphy would probably not agree.”