The Official Rules

The official rules

In an earlier post, I wrote about Finagle’s Creed which described every information technology project that was ever worked on or will be worked on.  Several of you commented by adding laws and corollaries of your own and I realized that someone had already done the work of amassing all the rules by which we work and live.

No, it’s not The Bible but it is the bible of official rules.  Paul Dickson wrote a book entitled The Official Rules.  This book, sadly now out of print, is “the definitive, annotated collection of laws, principles and instructions for dealing with the real world.”  Dickson organized the rules alphabetically from Abbott’s Admonitions (1. If you have to ask, you not entitled to know.  2. If you don’t like the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.) to Zymurgy’s Seventh Exception to Murphy’s Laws (When it rains, it pours).

Dickson followed his first book with The New Official Rules and, for a long while, entertained submissions for any subsequent “new” rule that he had overlooked.

Here are a few random examples from both books:

  • Boren’s Laws of Bureaucracy:  (1) When in charge, ponder; (2) When in trouble, delegate; (3) When in doubt, mumble.
  • DeVault’s Razor:  There are only two laws. (1) Someday you will die.  (2) If you are reading this, you are not dead yet.
  • Erma Bombeck’s Rule of Medicine:  Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
  • Exxon’s Law of Energy Costs:  We’ve upped ours, now up yours.
  • Leahy’s Law:  If a thing is done wrong often enough, it becomes right.  Corollary: Volume is a defense to error.
  • Mrs. Murphy’s Law (also known as the Buttered-Side-Down Law and now as Sod’s Law):  An object will fall so as to do the most damage.
  • Russell’s Right:  If it succeeds, it is right.  If it fails, it is wrong.

I added two of my own:

  • Curmudgeon’s Law #1:  To a fire department, there is no such thing as a “little fire.” (from personal experience)
  • Curmudgeon’s Law #2:  Nothing is impossible so long as you don’t have to do it.
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20 responses to “The Official Rules

  1. To Paul Dickson: I received a copy of your book “The Official Explanations” in the mid-80s from a curmudgeon of an AF Lt Col when I was a young 1Lt.

  2. Just saw the news from Paul Dickson. HOORAY!

    My first copy of such things was a gift from my mother about 1984 or so. She had a desk calendar called “Murphy’s Daily Law” (or something like that). She would type the day’s entry into a computer file each day. At the end of the year, she gave me a printout of the whole thing on that old, continuous-feed computer paper that was about 3 feet wide. I kept it for years, always good for a laugh. It has now sadly been lost, but Mr. Dickson’s book should be an excellent substitute.

  3. Skin Tickler’s Law of Expanding Entropy:
    If you add a drop of beer to a barrel of sewage, the result is a barrel of sewage. But if you add a drop of sewage to a barrel of beer, you get a barrel of sewage.

    Skin Tickler’s addendum to the above: In the case of mass-produced American beers, no addition is necessary.

  4. Cheers to this outstanding collection!

    Frank’s Law: If at first you don’t succeed, you did it wrong …. so try try again a different way.

  5. The New Title: “The Official Rules: 5,427 Laws, Principles, and Axioms to Help You Cope with Crises, Deadlines, Bad Luck, Rude Behavior, Red Tape, and Attacks by Inanimate Objects”

  6. This is Paul Dickson the book is out in a new vastly expanded edition from Dover Publications published in late 2013.

  7. Sometimes the rules aren’t as entertaining as the names they are given!
    I’d like to add a rule too, if you don’t mind. I call it the Law of Unrealistic Expectations: It is what it is. Adjust.

  8. My favourite is ‘Mother’s Law’: (1) Mother is always right; (2) If Mother is wrong, refer to (1) above.

  9. Love these! I needed a good laugh as a reprieve from all these lectures. My conference is great, but a couple of speakers have made DeVault’s Razor relevant to me today…

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