If you’re Irish, you have likely heard people referring to Murphy’s Law, and unfortunately this Irish Law of the Almighty Murphy can and will ruin your day.
With the now world famous Murphy's Law, the chances are that something that can go wrong, will go wrong - even under the best conditions.
This idea has a really interesting history, and is commonly associated with Irish culture. Although, you might be surprised at its origins!
How the Irish Law of the Almighty Murphy will ruin your day may be a mystery, but on some days it will inevitably come into action.
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What is Murphy’s Law?
There are a lot of different variations of Murphy’s Law, but one of the main interpretations is, “If anything can go wrong, it will.”
This phrase can be seen on a lot of Irish signage. After all, Murphy is a popular name in Ireland, so it's sometimes associated with Irish heritage.
Who created Murphy’s Law?
Have you ever wondered where Murphy's Law comes from? Is it Irish? Did Irish immigrants bring it to America?
Because of this phrase’s association with Irish culture and the Irish name Murphy, it might come as a surprise that it was created by an American - an Irish American to be precise.
Captain Edward Murphy, an aerospace engineer who worked in development engineering for aircraft, was working at Edwards U.S. Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert in California in 1949. He was on a project called USAF project MX981 studying human acceleration tolerances.
There are a lot of different versions of the exact details of the legend of how the saying came to be, but the most prominent one says that, at the time, they were attaching a man named Major John Paul Stapp as a test subject to a rocket sled that would quickly accelerate, then decelerate.
There is still confusion on who made the mistake, but one of the people working on the team accidentally put the two-pin plug (sensor) on wrong, so they didn’t get their recordings for the experiment.
Rumor has it, that at this point Captain Edward A. Murphy said something along the lines of, "If there's more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way."
He was very frustrated about the failed experiment, as they didn't anticipate the possibility of several things going wrong due to human errors.
He accidentally created a principle of defensive design that would stick throughout the ages.
How did this adage spread?
The prevailing theory of how Murphy’s Law became popularized begins with Major John Paul Stapp, the man at the center of the rocket-sled experiments. He was the one who started using the term Murphy’s Law.
At the time, he used it more as a precautionary warning to his aerospace engineering team about taking every possible mistake into account during any given situation.
He sustained several injuries during their testing, and he wanted to minimize it by turning Murphy’s statement on its head. The team tried to avoid accidents like that from there on out by double checking each possible error.
As time went on, due to memetic drift, this law got shortened, and was increasingly refined to its current-day wording: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”
The phrase started to spread within the air force base, and eventually Murphy was invited to speak about it in a press conference and interviews for newspapers and magazines.
This push in the media to share his story is what brought Murphy’s Law to the entire world. It's main link to Ireland is that it was first invented by a man of Irish descent (whose family probably came from County Cork, with a name like Murphy.)
Related Laws and Examples
There are multiple other laws that are considered as similar or related to the original Murphy’s Law.
The most prominent one is called Sod's Law. This is an earlier British phrase that has a similar meaning. It’s based off the British phrase “poor sod,” which refers to an average persone who is always unlucky.
The concept of this law is more related to faith than personal failing. Another example is Finagle's Law, which adds that the worst thing will happen at the worst possible time.
Sometimes you’ll see references to “Murphy’s Laws” (plural). This idea is relevant because many people extrapolate on the original law by making it specific to a scenario, or bolster it with an analogy.
For example, the idea that the one time you don’t bring an umbrella will be the one time it rains is a version of Murphy’s Law.
Another corollary is that if there is a worse time for something to go wrong, then it will go wrong at exactly that time.
Here are a couple more examples and idoms that you might enjoy:
- If everything seems to be going well, you don’t fully understand the situation.
- The hidden flaw never remains hidden.
- Everything takes longer than you think it will.
- Shaw's Principle: Build a system that even a fool can use, and only a fool will want to use it.
- Siwiak's Rule: The only way to make something foolproof is to keep it away from fools.
- A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.
These things might seem like common sense, but the original Murphy's Law was created by a real person!
You can find many lists online, or written on humorous signs, of these types of statements. There are even different lists specific to different categories of life, like business, politics, medicine, mother nature, people, and many other relatable categories.
Murphy's Law in Action
The most popular place you might see Murphys Law is at a traditional Irish pub. It has come to be known as a symbol of Irish culture, and is celebrated by many Irish Americans as a representation of our heritage.
Now you may be looking for scientific proof of the accuracy of Murphy's Law. But it cannot be proven because the very words of the law itself tell us, your experiment will inevitably go wrong..
Whenever you try to conclusively prove Murphy's Law, your method and proof could be wrong. It's simply the way things are around Murphy.
Applying Murphy's Law To Life
Murphy's Law really is a simple theory and in its most basic form states: If anything can go wrong, it will.
But this little life lesson can be applied to many different situations in life.
Here's a little saying I love, that's a real life application of Murphy's law - "The chance of the buttered side of the bread falling face down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet."
When planning a trip, a project or an activity always remember that the Almighty Murphy can meddle and whatever decides to go wrong will happen at the worst possible timing.
This means that if there is an absolutely worse time for something to malfunction, then it will happen right at that time.
When working in groups always approach any task remembering that to err is human. If something can be done the wrong way, someone is bound to do it the wrong way. Depending on human reliability is actually very unreliable.
For any task there's a possibility that more than one thing can go wrong. So don't be surprised if the thing you least expect to go wrong, will go wrong.
If you preplan and brain storm with others and identify four possible ways in which a project can go wrong, then inevitably it will go wrong in a fifth way you never suspected.
This way of looking at life is very pessimistic and negative. But never fear, we have an opposite law to come to our rescue.
It's called Yhprum's law, and it simply states: "Everything that can work, will work."
In other words, "everyting that can go right, will go right."
Have you guessed already where the name of this law comes from - it's simply Murphy spelled backwards. Perhaps Murphy was an optimist afterall.
And remember knowing Murphy's law doesn't help much either, because it too can be worng. If Murphy's Law goes wrong, then things will go alright. I think that means that everything will be just fine.
What You Can Do To Try To Avoid Murphy’s Law
And so our discussion leads to the inevitable question - can Murphy's Law be beaten?
And the simple answer is no. Murphy's law is inevitable, because at some stage everything and everyone ages and breaks down.
However, don't get downhearted. Even if we cannot beat old Murphy's Law we can prepare ourselves for it and lessen its impact.
Through thoughtfulness and preparation we're less likely to be targeted by Murphy.
I once thought this idiom dated back to ancient Ireland, and was surprised to learn that the origin of Murphy's Law only dates back about 70 years. It's an Americanism from the 1950's.
But whatever its age and origins, you've got to love Murphy's Law. It really is sound advice.
How have you seen Murphy’s Law play out in your own life?
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade