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Partridge says . . .

Posted by R. Berg on August 27, 2002

In Reply to: Sod's Law posted by Gary on August 27, 2002

: : : I've had a contact from the BBC asking about the origin of Sod's Law. Anyone know?

: : Partridge has an entry for it in Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. If you don't have the book, I'll post the entry.

: No, I don't have that book. I've got the new edition on order but I don't think it comes out until October.

He puts the whole entry in brackets--his standard treatment for expressions deemed not to be true catchphrases.

['Sod's Law', like 'Parkinson's Law', is clearly not a c.p.; the former does, however, the more nearly approach the dividing line. In 'The Times Literary Supplement' of 19 Oct. 1973 there was a review of Richard Swinburne, 'An Introduction to Confirmation Theory'. That review opened by saying, 'Philosophy, like life, is subject to what is vulgarly known as Sod's Law. In life, Sod's Law takes the form of doors opening the wrong way, love being unrequited, and so forth.' This provoked a correspondence; someone claimed to have written about Sod's Law in the 'New Statesman' of Oct. 1970.

My friend Paul Beale tells me that he first heard of it in mid 1972 and adds: 'Sod's Law is that which places mankind at the mercy of the small gods of minor misfortune and trivial annoyances. It decrees that if something CAN go wrong, it will.'

Obviously the form 'Sod's Law' was prompted by 'God's Law': and hardly less obviously the sense of the phrase owes much to the sense of 'It's a fair sod'--synon. with 'It's a proper bastard'.

P.B., 1983: the phenomenon is still with us--naturally--but the term is now slightly ob. Perhaps the most irritating current exemplar is the way the 'Autobank' is always 'out of service' just at those times when one needs one's own ready cash most urgently--are you listening, High Street Banks?]

From Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, revised and updated edition edited by Paul Beale (New York: Dorset Press, 1985).

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