The perceived perversity of the universe has long been a subject of comment, and precursors to the modern version of Murphy’s law are not hard to find. Recent significant research in this area has been conducted by members of the American Dialect Society. ADS member Stephen Goranson has found a version of the law, not yet generalized or bearing that name, in a report by Alfred Holt at an 1877 meeting of an engineering society.
It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later, so it is not to be wondered that owners prefer the safe to the scientific …. Sufficient stress can hardly be laid on the advantages of simplicity. The human factor cannot be safely neglected in planning machinery. If attention is to be obtained, the engine must be such that the engineer will be disposed to attend to it.
Mathematician Augustus De Morgan on June 23, 1866 “Supplement to the Budget of Paradoxes,” The Athenaeum no. 2017 page 836 col. 2 [and later reprints: e.g. 1872, 1915, 1956, 2000] wrote: “The first experiment already illustrates a truth of the theory, well confirmed by practice, what-ever can happen will happen if we make trials enough.” In later publications “whatever can happen will happen” occasionally is termed “Murphy’s law,” which raises the possibility—if something went wrong—that “Murphy” is “De Morgan” misremembered (an option, among others, raised by Goranson on American Dialect Society list).
It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion, such as the production of a magical effect for the first time in public, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Whether we must attribute this to the malignity of matter or to the total depravity of inanimate things, whether the exciting cause is hurry, worry, or what not, the fact remains.
Anything that can possibly go wrong, does