Murphy's law and Sod's law

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kva, Jun 6, 2011.

  1. kva Senior Member

    Hello everybody!

    I am looking for Englisgh translation of russian saying <<Russian deleted>> ("law of villainy"?). It assumes that buttered bread always land butter side down. I came across Murphy's law that means that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, but to me it seems to be very general statement.

    Law of villainy does not sound right to me either. Are there any other alternatives? Any suggestions?

    Thanks for your help!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 6, 2011
  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    What's wrong with Murphy's law? Why don't you like that?
    Yes it's very general, should it not be?

    Unless you only want an expression that applies specifically to butter landing on the floor, I don't understand why you don't like Murphy's law, and what you are searching for instead.
  3. Sod's law.
  4. Inglip Senior Member

    Dubai, UAE
    English - UK
    I would say 'Sod's law'

    ....Sod's law indicates that it will rain on the weekend.
    ....Your AC breaking during a heat wave is also an example of Sod's law.

    Would the Russian saying apply to them?
  5. pob14 Senior Member

    Central Illinois
    American English
    I had never heard of Sod's Law before this thread. If, as your profile says, you're in the USA, you should probably stick to Murphy's Law. (Also, according to Wikipedia, Sod's Law is even broader than Murphy's.)
  6. kva Senior Member

    yes, I would like to find an expression that applies to the bread and butter example and I was not sure if Murthy's law is a common expression. I like Murthy's law, but I want to have something more specific.

    The reason is I am trying to relate this expression to my weeked accident. I spent the whole morning baking french pastries to take at work, when packed them in the plastic box to put in the refrigirator, but I dropped pastries on the floor chocolate side down :))

    It is not exactly the case when everything went wrong, since my pastries came out well :))
  7. Inglip Senior Member

    Dubai, UAE
    English - UK
    I would still say Sod's Law. It means exactly as you said - anything bad that can happen, will. Bread landing butter side down, rains on you wedding day etc
  8. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
  9. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    But there's the rub! Because of your culinary skills, it was not possible that the pastries would come out poorly. But because you are (ostensibly) clumsy, Murphy and Newton joined forces to bring you your comeuppance. :)
  10. kva Senior Member

    Even though rhe russian saying does not apply to the rain on the weekend, othis is a good example too, but if it rains all day long, you can figure out something else to do on the weekend...

    It is specific about bread and butter, the way I interpret it is when you need something desperatly or in a hurry, something wrong will always happen in the last minute. In my example did not have many alternatives how to replca my pastries :))
  11. kva Senior Member

    I just checked my last post, sorry for my typos. Is Sod's Law a common expression? Is law of villainy not undestandable at all?
  12. Inglip Senior Member

    Dubai, UAE
    English - UK
    I have never heard 'law of villainy' Sod's law is common though.

    And on the weekend, yeah I suppose you could make other plans. I would probably be better to say, it has been sunny all week in work, and you planned to go to the beach on the weekend, and then it rained.
  13. pob14 Senior Member

    Central Illinois
    American English
    The way I originally heard Murphy's Law was in three parts:

    Nothing is as easy as it looks.
    Everything takes longer than you think.
    And if something can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible moment.

    That last clause seems to apply to your situation!

    There's an exhaustive list of such "laws" at Most of them are not commonly used at all.
  14. kva Senior Member

    Thanks all for your help! I belive both Sod's and Murphy's Laws will work fine in my example. The axiom is anything that can go wrong, will :))
  15. Hermione Golightly

    Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    British English
    There are numerous incidences of Murphy's Law, an infinite number I suppose by definition. It's very well known and quite often referred to.

    It isn't about alternatives or replacements. It's more about how you never drop cakes when it doesn't really matter, how it will rain for sure because you have just cleaned your windows or hung the washing out or organised a family picnic, how the bus or train door never opens right in front of where you are standing, how the one time you are in a real hurry all the traffic lights are red.

    Villainy is understandable but it is hard to find just the right word for it, thus Murphy's Law.' Sod's Law' is a slightly vulgar version. Some people might think it is crude and I don't think 'Sod!' or 'Sod it!' is used as an exclamation in the USA. 'Sod it!' is what you might say when Murphy's Law affects you. It's a word rather like 'buggar' because it refers to a sexual practice that used to be known as 'sodomy' from the city of Sodom mentioned in the bible.
    I'd strongly advise using Murphy's Law. (Unless you want to explain about 'sodomy' ;))


    Last edited: Jun 6, 2011
  16. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    I'm Irish and I have never heard of "Sod's law". If you're not writing for a specifically English audience (I presume the saying is English), I would avoid it.
  17. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    Sod's law is used in lots of places. My Irish grandmother used to say it.
  18. boozer Senior Member

    I remember great writer Jerome K. Jerome using a phrase "the natural cussedness of things in general" in my favourite book Three Men in a Boat to refer to this very notion - Murphy's law. I don't suppose the law had already been postulated when he wrote the book somewhere towards the end of the 19th century. This is not a set phrase, I've not heard it anywhere else, but I think it still conveys the idea very well :)
  19. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    English English
    :):thumbsup: I like it. (M. R. James wrote a story called The Malice of Inanimate Objects ...) I also agree that Sod's Law is ever-so-slightly vulgar.
  20. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Just to chime in from the U.S.: the vast majority of AE speakers will not know Sod's Law. And since it is also slightly vulgar—at least to some—perhaps you should choose the very widely recognized Murphy's Law.

    My own preferred formulation of Murphy's Law is "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Usually at the worst possible moment."
  21. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    As did mine (who was also Irish).
  22. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    I've never heard of "Sod's Law" or a "law of villainny" either. I have heard the saying, "Bread always lands with the butter side down." Maybe that's a peculiarly American saying, or even a regional expression of Murphy's law within the U.S., but if not I don't see why you can't use it if Russian has a saying that also bemoans the supposedly tendency of a dropped slice of bread to always land on the floor with the buttered side down.
  23. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    Where I came from that would be called a "schlemiel". A schlimazel spills his soup; the soup lands on a schlemiel's lap.

    A fuller description is listed in this link: (The buttered bread example is there too.)
  24. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    Perhaps it is used in other parts of Ireland, or is dated usage, but I've never come across it before in any context, strangely enough.
  25. susanna76 Senior Member

    Hi there,

    I found a couple of references to "sod's law" in Nick Hornby's novel About a Boy. I went on Wikipedia and found a good article about it, which explains how in some ways in is like Murphy's law, and in others is both broader and more specific, working around concepts such as "bad fortune will be tailored to the individual" and "good fortune will occur in spite of the individual's actions."'s_law

    Here's, also, Nick Hornby:
    "So, there it was then: an enormous, happy, extended family. True, this happy family included an invisible two-year-old, a barmy twelve-year-old and his suicidal mother; but sod's law dictated that this was just the sort of family you were bound to end up with when you didn't like families in the first place."

    My question now. In AmE, what word of phrase would you use in this case? I'm thinking "irony" only. Am wondering whether "sod's law" would be understood in AmE for what it expresses in this example: a particular irony of fate.

  26. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Sorry, but not having heard it, I would be mystified.

    Perhaps I've led a sheltered life, except that "sod" seems to be much more a BE word.
  27. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    The Wikipedia article is a little dubious.

    Murphy's Law is an engineering law (originally) and can be stated:
    If there is a right way and a wrong way to put something together, someone will put it together the wrong way.
    There are other ways of phrasing it.

    Sod's Law does not require human intervention:
    If something can go wrong, it will.

    So a slice of toast landing on the floor butter side down is not an example of Murphy's Law, but is an example of Sod's Law.

    Fitting a one-way valve the wrong way round in a fuel line and thereby causing an aeroplane to crash because of fuel starvation is an example of Murphy's Law in action and is not an example of Sod's Law.
  28. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    Andy, what you call sod's law, we call Murphy's law in the US.
  29. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    So that will be an example of law-definition-drift :). The Wikipedia article on Murphy's Law makes a good read. I see that the association with Murphy is cited as
  30. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I've never heard it this way. What is your source and what makes it source less dubious than Wikipedia?
  31. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    English English
    Moderator note: I'm sure it was pure forgetfulness on your part, Susanna, that caused you to start a new thread on a subject there was already a perfectly good thread about ~ see above;)
  32. thedov Senior Member

    English - London England
  33. I_Daniel Member

    Pretoria.South Africa
    Afrikaans/South African English
    Dear old Murphy. I think this law was coined from a fatalistic viewpoint when for no apparent and unexplainable reason something breaksdown or happens. But the buttered Bread and Chocolate topping makes me wonder if the buttered side does not become heavier so it flips and falls heaviest side first and the same for the chocolate. The head is said to be the heaviest part of a human body and when one falls off a ladder you usually land on your head, unless you can contort yourself like a cat and flip yourself to the feet first position.

    The Russian Villains Law is in all probably their counterpart of Murphy's Law. They did not have Murphys in Russia so they had to think up their own "non-explaining" explanation. Murphy's Law sometimes make one think there is a villainous devil behind it all.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011
  34. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    I meant that the Wikipedia article on Sod's law was a little dubious. The one on Murphy's Law, which I looked at later, is comprehensive and includes comment on the engineering origin - as noted in my post #29.

    My practical experience of Murphy's Law, in the way I understand it, arises from fatal aircraft accidents due to engineering error, with Murphy getting involved as a result of poor design.

    I'm perfectly happy to accept that my understanding of the difference between Murphy's and Sod's is not in alignment with the AE use of the term Murphy's Law.
  35. susanna76 Senior Member

    Hi ewie, I actually did do a search for "sod's law" and saw the following at the top of the page:
    "We could not find the full phrase you were looking for." I then didn't scan the rest for some reason . . . Will be more careful in the future:). Thank you for merging the threads.
  36. RogerArese New Member

    Milan, Italy
  37. pwmeek

    pwmeek Senior Member

    SE Michigan, USA
    English - American
    The elliptical "butter-side down" for "A piece of bread will always land butter(ed)-side down" was a frequent saying in my family after any seemingly-inevitable worst-case outcome. I only heard of Murphy's Law later in life. I have also heard "The Law of the Perverseness of Inanimate Objects" by someone who wanted to make it sound scholarly. (Law of Villainy may be similar? Inanimate objects seem villainous?)

    Sod's Law and butter-side down seem to apply to inanimate objects, while Murphy's Law seems to apply to events and human actions. However, both assert that the worst possible outcome will happen more often than it should by pure probability.

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