discovered there is a name for taking all day to read the newspaper.
It's called Parkinson's law. It states: "Work expands so as
to fill the time available for its completion." I looked into
this. C Northcote Parkinson was a 20th-century British historian..
But will he be remembered for his writing? No. His legacy is the
law he left behind, a truism of human nature. I want one.
So how does someone get their own idiom? It's the next best thing
to having a comet named after you, which is more glamorous but
requires you to be an astronomer. And you have to sight it first
and claim it. Halley's comet was said to have been sighted by
Edmund Halley, who predicted it would return in 1758. Turns out
that Halley had a little rivalry with Isaac Newton. I suppose
if your nemesis comes up with the three laws of motion, a good
way to trump him is with a comet. Having your name on an idiom
might not be as exciting as having a comet, but it's better than
a hurricane. I met someone recently called Katrina and thought
how lucky she is to be a cheerful person. Imagine if it had been
Hurricane Ariel that slammed into New Orleans? I'd be associated
with tragedy and neglect even more than I already am.
So I was curious. Who was Murphy? His luck
couldn't have been that bad if he managed to get his name attached
to the most recognisable idiom of all time. But Murphy's law is
so well known that there is a conflict over who has ownership
of it. It supposedly originated in 1948 with Major Murphy, an
engineer in the US Air Force. Entire books have been written about
who was behind it. My favourite explanation is: "Some feckless
Irish guy named Murphy, who was a builder."
Soon I found that laws/adages/idioms are
all over the map. They are named after chemists, politicians,
paediatricians - it's pretty random.
For instance, who's ever heard of Littlewood's
law? This states that an individual can expect miracles to happen
to them at the rate of about one a month. It was declared by Professor
Littlewood - he died in 1977, presumably in the middle of the
month before his miracle could save him.
But "about one per month" is a
bit vague, isn't it? If you have five miracles in March and only
one in April, you'll feel ripped off. Plus, what is considered
a "miracle"? I think it's a miracle that I haven't got
acanthamoeba from the tap water I use to clean my contact lenses.
Is that my miracle per month?
You'd think, for a law to become part of
the western world's lexicon, it would have to come from someone
important, knowledgable or, at the very least, old. But the most
recent law on record I found was created in 1990. It's Godwin's
law and states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the
probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches
one." Who is Mike Godwin? An American lawyer. So this gave
me hope. If Godwin's law is out there, why not Leve's law? But
choosing my law was tough. I was torn between four options.
Option 1: "If someone's telling you
not to get your hopes up, prepare for rejection." Option
2: "If you suspect something's wrong, it is." Option
3: "When you think you're right, you probably are."
Or option 4: "All of your worst fears are true."