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Sod’s Law - What Does It Mean?

Updated on November 29, 2021

It's just my luck

You know the scenario, you have had a busy and restless weekend and before you know it Monday morning is upon you. Having not had enough sleep, you get up late, miss breakfast and dash for your train to work. All the while there is something bugging you, something you feel that you have forgotten. You get to your stop and step off the train to set off on your final ten minutes walk to work. No sooner have you left the cover of the station, a few spots of rain splash on your head and before you know it, you are deluged under a heavy shower. At this point it becomes patently clear what you have forgotten – your umbrella. You cannot believe it, you carried that awkward bit of extra luggage with you to work all last week and not a single drop of rain fell once. Yet on the day that you forget it…Sod’s law!

Sod’s law or Murphy’s Law by its more appropriate name, is a common term used in relation to luck or moreover bad luck. By its most popular interpretation it is the suggestion that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way . You drop your toast and it lands butter side down, you forget your house keys on the day when no one is at home etc… There are are more than one opinion about the origins of this theory but the most commonly held belief is that it emanates from American aerospace engineer, Captain Edward A. Murphy’s identification of this phenomenon during experiments for the US Air Force in 1949. It is reputed that his research colleagues assumed the name Murphy’s Law. However, there are some alternative views to whether Murphy was actually based on an equivalently named and accident prone US Navy educational cartoon character. It only became more formally recognised by that title when quoted in Anne Roe's book The Making of a Scientist in 1952. Sod’s law is a colloquial term by which it more recently became known.

Life’s rhythmic patterns – The theory behind Murphy’s law

Moods and self-esteem are generally affected by whether our luck is up or down. What we do not necessarily recognise is that much of what we do is habitual behaviour. This effectively creates fairly distinct patterns in our lives and our positive/negative states of mind are manifested through these patterns. This is not only limited to individuals. The rhythms of individuals within a socially connected group can become synchronised to create group impacts e.g. disharmony or ultimately the breakdown of the group. Every aspect of our life has its’ own rhythm in the form of oscillation or frequency. At certain points in time, these rhythmic patterns will inevitably converge or harmonise resulting in a notable impact on our lives.

How it works

Consider that someone’s day-to-day life follows a distinct pattern. Assume that every 4th day they forget their umbrella. On every 6th day it rains (a conservative estimate in the UK) and every 7th day that person walks through an unsheltered open space. The theory is that at a particular point in time, all these events will become synchronised so that the individual will forget their umbrella on the day when it rains and whilst walking through the unsheltered open space. Obviously, to that person they will be subject to ‘Sod’s law. The table below illustrates this fairly crude and basic example where the sequence synchronises on the 84th day:

Clearly this example is a very basic hypothesis and in reality there are a complex series of events occurring all the time. However, the concept is that patterns exist within the apparent randomness of our lives and they will eventually converge momentarily.

Like so many terms or phrases we use, Sod’s (Murphy’s) law is one that is deployed frequently yet I suspect many people do not necessarily appreciate its actual meaning. I hope this article may enlighten some who have never really given it much consideration.


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