The Friday Fillip: Eponymous Laws

Right up there with breathing, drinking, eating and that other thing, there’s a basic human need to make sense — and to name it after yourself. I mean, the world’s a confusing place in which the occasional region of regularity can give you the break you need to recover your equanimity. And what better name to give to this “happy place” of order than your own? Yes, it’s definitely a win-win, as they say when you break the tape-tape.

Which explains why it’s been done a whole lot for all fields in which “law” is a useful descriptor. Order, regularity, equanimity, predictability . . . there in the language itself is the lust to make people, nature, the universe obey us, to conform to measures the marked stick for which we hold in our hands.

Slaw readers know all about this in the realm of statutes. And even the most blithe of us can dredge up a few instances of named “laws” from the science classes* of our youth — Boyle, Ampere, Gauss . . . . Far more fun, however, are those eponymous laws promulgated by ordinarily observant people like you and me, laws that seek to make a tiny bit of sense of the daily ruck in which we scrimmage. Herewith, then, a brief consolidation of some laws of the non-litigious kind. (Please feel free to add your own or your favourites.)

  • Acton – Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
  • Amara – We invariably overestimate the short-term impact of new technologies while underestimating their long term effects.
  • Brooks – Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.
  • Duffy – Most people are wrong about most things most of the time. [Ed. note: Extra points here because the Wikipedia page has been suspended (not sure about benefits).]
  • Godwin – As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
  • Hanlon – Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
  • Moore – Over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.
  • Murphy – Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
  • Parkinson – Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
  • Pommer – A person’s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be: From having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.
  • Segal – A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.
  • Sod – Bad fortune will be tailored to the individual; good fortune will occur in spite of the individual’s actions.
  • Wirth – Software gets slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster.
  • Zawinski – Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.


* Bonus (non-eponymous): The Laws of Thermodynamics for lay people: 1. You cannot win. 2. You cannot break even. 3. You cannot get out of the game.


  1. [Jascha] Heifetz: “No matter what side of the argument you are on, you always find people on your side that you wish were on the other.”

    [Upton] Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

  2. Muphry’s law: If you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.

  3. Napoleon: Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

    Diane: A good dictator never lets the facts get in the way of his opinion.

    Diane: If 90% of everthing is crap then the remaining 10% must be pee.

  4. Albert Einstein – In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

  5. Gates “The speed of software halves every 18 months.”