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Posts Tagged ‘Finagle’s Law’

Finagle’s Law

Posted by Admin on March 11, 2011

For those who don’t know, Finagle’s Law is this:  “If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.”  In comparing Finagle’s Law to Murphy’s Law, it’s easy to see that, of the two, Murphy was the optimist.

The term Finagle’s Law was first used by Astounding Science Fiction magazine editor, John W. Campbell, Jr.  He often used the term in his editorials from the 1940s through to 1960s.  However, even though the term Finagle’s Law existed during the same time period as the term Murphy’s Law the public didn’t cotton on to it the way they did with the term Murphy’s Law.

Finagle’s Law was eventually popularized by science fiction author, Larry Niven.  He included references to the dreaded god Finagle and his mad prophet Murphy in a number of his stories and from there, Larry Niven drew attention to Finagle’s Law.

In an episode of Star Trek, Dr. McCoy refers to an alcoholic drink known as the “Finagle’s Folly” which indirectly references Finagle’s Law.

On September 15, 1967 in the Star Trek episode “Amok Time” the following exchange between crew members played out:

STARFLEET [OC]: To Captain, USS Enterprise from Starfleet Sector Nine. Inauguration ceremonies, Altair Six, have been advanced seven solar days. You are ordered to alter your flight plan to accommodate, by order of Komack, Admiral, Starfleet Command. Acknowledge.

KIRK: Lieutenant Uhura, acknowledge that message.

UHURA: Aye, aye, sir.

KIRK: Mister Chekov, compute course and speed necessary for compliance.

CHEKOV: (a bit of a Russian accent) We’ll have to head directly there at warp six, sir. Insufficient time to stop off at Vulcan.

KIRK: Head directly for Altair Six. Sailor’s luck, Mister Spock. Or, as one of Finagle’s Laws puts it, ‘Any home port the ship makes ill be somebody else’s, not mine’. The new president of Altair Six wants to get himself launched a week early, so we have to be there a week early. Don’t worry. I’ll see that you get your leave as soon as we’re finished.

SPOCK: I quite understand, Captain.

The term Finagle’s Law were instrumental in Christopher Stasheff’s books “The Warlock Unlocked” published in 1982 and “St. Vidicon To The Rescue” published in 2005 presented an order of Catholic monk-engineers dedicated to the philosophy of Murphy’s and Finagle’s Laws as well as the philosophy of the Imp of the Perverse.

In reality, Finagle’s Law is responsible for countless storylines in television sitcoms, plays, movies, novels, etc., most especially if they rely heavily on comedy. The odds of something happening as the plot unfolds does not depend on the actual likelihood of it happening.  Instead, the odds of something happening as the plot unfolds depends on the potential for the most disastrous thing happening.   Why would this be? 

It’s because without drama and conflict, there really isn’t any reason for an audience to stick around to watch how it all ends.  This is called the Rule Of Drama that states, “If the potential for conflict is visible, then it will never be passed over.”  Were it not for Finagle’s Law, the Rule of Drama would have a much more difficult time of it all.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Murphy’s Law

Posted by Admin on March 10, 2011

Murphy’s Law is not to be confused with Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives, popularized by science fiction author, Larry Niven.

First off, Murphy’s Law expresses a key principle of defensive design where assuming all worst-case scenarios is imperative to the success of the design.  The original statement was made by Aerospace Engineer, Major Edward Aloysius Murphy, Jr. (1918 -1990) who served with the United States Army who said, “Every solution breeds new problems.” 

Murphy’s Law is often identified as a variation on the Second Law of Thermodynamics —  the Law of Entropy — as both identify there is a preferred direction for any process.  Murphy’s Law identifies that regardless of the direction taken, each direction brings with it a number of problems, some of which are difficult to identify before they are encountered.

However, Edward Murphy’s take on such things was not much different than George E. Nichols who worked with Murphy on a project to see how much sudden deceleration a person could withstand in a crash. In fact, Nichols’ Fourth Law states, “Avoid any action with an unacceptable outcome.”

At a press conference in 1948, Dr. John Paul Stapp — also associated with the project — was asked by the press if anyone had been severely injured during rocket sled tests.  Dr. Stapp announced to the press that the project’s great safety record was due to adhering to Murphy’s Law which, he explained, was a case of considering all the possible things that might go wrong prior to testing and putting safeguards in place to counteract any that actually did come up during testing. 

Oddly enough, Dr. Stapp had a law of his own known as Stapp’s Ironical Paradox that states, “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”

Murphy’s Law was included for the first time in Webster’s dictionary in 1958.

However, the spirit of Murphy’s Law was in existence long before Edward A. Murphy claimed it as his own.  In fact, on January 18, 1842 the Times and Commercial Advertiser newspaper in Montreal, Quebec (Canada) printed the following verse in their column “Short Patent Sermons” by Mr. Dow, Jr:

I never had a slice of bread,
Particularly large and wide,
That did not fall upon the floor,
And always on the buttered side.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »