10 Versions of Murphy's Law That Explain Universal 'Truths'

'If something can go wrong, it will' is only the beginning

People fascinated by the capriciousness of the universe must find Murphy's law and its variations interesting. Murphy's law is the name given to any adage stating that if anything can go wrong, it will. 

Interpretations of the adage were found in documents dating to the early 19th century. It grew in popularity when Edward Murphy, an engineer working on a project at Edwards Air Force Base, found a technical error made by one of the junior technicians and said, "If there's any way to do it wrong, he will find it." Dr. John Paul Stapp, who was involved with the project, made a note of the universality of errors and fabricated a law, which he titled "Murphy's law." Later, in a press conference, when reporters asked him how they had avoided accidents, Stapp mentioned that they adhered to Murphy's law, which helped them steer away from commonly made mistakes. Word soon spread about Murphy's law, and the term was born.

The original law has many offshoots, all similar in nature. Here are the original law and nine of its most popular variations:

01
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The Original Murphy's Law

Unlucky toast with jam
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"If something can go wrong, it will."

This is the original, classic Murphy's law, which points to the universal nature of ineptitude that results in bad outcomes. Instead of looking at this adage with a pessimistic view, think of it as a word of caution: Don't overlook quality control and don't accept mediocrity, because a small slip is enough to cause a catastrophe.

02
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Misplaced Articles

Lost keys
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"You never find a lost article until you replace it."

Whether it's a missing report, a set of keys, or a sweater, you can expect to find it right after you replace it, according to this variation of Murphy's law.

03
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Value

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"Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value."

Have you noticed that the most valuable items are irretrievably damaged, while things you don't care about last forever? So take care of those things you value most, because they're most likely to be ruined. 

04
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The Future

USA, Hawaii, Big Island, Haleakala National Park, sunset
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"Smile. Tomorrow will be worse."

Ever believe in a better tomorrow? According to this Murphy's law, you can never be sure whether your tomorrow will be better than today. Make the most of today; that's all that matters. Though there's a touch of pessimism here, this law teaches us to appreciate what we have instead of focusing on a better future. 

05
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Solving Problems

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"Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse."

Isn't this a common occurrence? Problems left unsolved can only get more complicated. If you don't sort out your differences with your partner, things only get worse from that point on. The lesson to remember with this law is that you can't ignore a problem. Resolve it before things get out of hand.

06
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Theories

Focused businesswoman working late at laptop, taking notes in dark office
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"Enough research will tend to support your theory."

Here's a Murphy's law that needs careful contemplation. Does it mean every concept can be proved to be a theory if adequate research is done? Or if you believe in an idea, you can provide enough research to back it? The real question is whether you are able to look at your research with a neutral viewpoint.

07
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Appearances

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"The opulence of the front office decor varies inversely with the fundamental solvency of the firm."

Appearances can be deceptive is the message of this variation of Murphy's law. A shiny apple could be rotten inside. Don't get taken in by opulence and glamour. The truth may be far from what you see.

08
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Belief

Idyllic View Of Star Filled Sky At Night
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"Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch to be sure."

When a fact is difficult to contest, people accept it at face value. When you present a fact that can be easily verified or refuted, however, people want to be sure. Why? Because humans tend to take overwhelming information for granted. They don't have the resources or the presence of mind to work out the veracity of a tall claim.

09
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Time Management


"The first 90 percent of a project takes 90 percent of the time; the last 10 percent takes the other 90 percent of the time."

Though this quote is often attributed to Tom Cargill of Bell Labs, it's also considered a Murphy's law. It's a humorous take on how many projects overshoot the deadline. Project time can't always be allocated in mathematical proportions. Time expands to fill the space, while it also seems to contract when you need it most. This is similar to Parkinson's law, which states: "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion." However, according to Murphy's law, work expands beyond the allocated time.

10
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Working Under Pressure

Frustrated African American woman holding eyeglasses near laptop
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"Things get worse under pressure."

Don't we all know how true this is? When you try to force things to work in your favor, they are apt to get worse. If you're parenting a teenager, you have already worked this out. The more pressure you apply, the less likely you are to be successful.