The Laws of Engineering

I’ve been meaning to post this up for a while, but kept forgetting. The backstory: After one of my grandfathers passed a few years back, we found several papers in his files with engineering humor. I’ve collected (and, to some extent, [sanitized–particularly given the forum filters]) the various laws of engineering.


Engineering Laws

Murphy’s Laws

  1. In any field of scientific endeavor, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
  2. Left to themselves, things always go from bad to worse.
  3. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will go wrong, is the one that will do the most damage.
  4. Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
  5. Mother Nature is a [redacted].
  6. If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
  7. Nothing is as easy as it looks.
  8. Everything takes longer than you think it will.

O’Toole’s Commentary on Murphy’s Laws : Murphy was an optimist.
90/90 Rule : The first 90% of a task takes 90% of the time. The last 10% takes the other 90% of the time.
Action’s Law: Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Albrecht’s Law : Social innovations tend to the level of minimum tolerable well-being.
Allen’s Axiom : When all else fails, read the instructions.
Barth’s Distinction : There are two types of people-those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t.
Bowie’s Theorem : If an experiment works you must be using the wrong equipment.
Carlson’s Consolation : Nothing is ever a complete failure; it can always serve as a bad example.
Carter’s Law : If the facts do not conform to the theory, ignore them. [Ed. Note 2017-2020: Also “Trump’s Law”.]
Clarke’s Third Law : Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Cohn’s Law : The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything. Stability is achieved when you spend all your time reporting on the nothing you are doing.
Correspondence Corollary : An experiment may be considered a success if no more than half your data must be discarded to obtain correspondence with your theory.
Cropp’s Law : The amount of work done varies inversely with the amount of time spent in the office.
Cutler Webster’s Law : There are two sides to every argument, unless a person is personally involved, in which case there is only one.
Dow’s Law : In a hierarchical organization, the higher the level, the greater the confusion.
Editor’s Law : When you can’t think of what to write, plagiarize.
Finagle’s Laws :

  1. Once a job is fouled up, anything done to improve it makes it worse.
  2. No matter what results are expected someone is always willing to fake it.
  3. No matter what the result someone is always eager to misinterpret it.
  4. No matter what occurs, someone believes it happened according to his pet theory.

Fourth Law for Politicians : Necessity is the mother of strange bedfellows.
Goldberg’s Observation : The line you are not in always moves faster.
Gordon’s Law : If a project is not worth doing at all, it is not worth doing well.
Government’s Law: There is an exception to all laws.
Gumperson’s Law: The probability of a given event occurring is inversely proportional to its desirability.
Harvard Law : Under the most carefully controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, humidity, and other variables, the system will perform as it [bloody] well pleases.
Hubbard’s Law : Don’t take life too seriously; you won’t get out of it alive.
Jenkinson’s Law : It won’t work.
Jenning’s Corollary to the Law of Selective Gravity : The chance of the bread falling with the buttered side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
Larkinson’s Law : All laws are basically false.
Law of Continuity : Experiments should be reproducible. They should all fail in the same way.
Law of Selective Gravity : An object will fall so as to do the most damage.
Law of the Too Solid Goof : In any collection of data, the figures that are obviously correct beyond all need of checking contain the errors.
___Corollary 1 : No one you ask for help will see the error either.
___Corollary 2 : Any nagging intruder who stops by with unsought advice will spot it immediately.

Lord Howard’s Law : Every man has a fantastic scheme that will not work.
May’s Law : The quality of correlation is inversely proportional to the density of control. (The fewer the data points, the smoother the curve.)
Mencken’s Law : There is always an easy answer to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Non-reciprocal Laws of Expectations : Negative expectations yield negative results. Positive expectations yield negative results.
Parkinson’s Law : Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
Parkinson’s Law, Modified : The components you have will expand to fill the available space.
Peter’s Principle : In every hierarchy, each employee tends to rise to the level of his incompetence.
Pettigrew’s Law of Small Problems : Inside of every small problem, there is a large problem struggling to get out.
Pudder’s Law : Anything that begins well will end badly. (Note: the converse of Pudder’s Law is not true.)
Rudin’s Law : In a crisis that forces a choice to be made among alternative courses of action, people tend to choose the worst possible course.
Ryan’s Law : Make three correct guesses consecutively and you will establish yourself as an expert.
Sattingler’s Law : It works better if you plug it in.
Schultz’s Law : When in doubt, mumble.
The Golden Rule : Those who have the gold make the rules.
The Law of the Perversity of Nature : You cannot determine beforehand which side of the bread to butter.
Thyme’s Law : Everything goes wrong at once.
Unnamed Law : If it happens, it must be possible.
Weiler’s Law : Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do the work.
Whitehead’s Law : The obvious answer is always overlooked.
Wilcox’s Law : A pat on the back is only a few centimeters from a kick in the pants.
Woodward’s Law : A theory is better than the explanation.
Zalenski’s First Law of Evolving Thermodynamics : Once a can of worms is opened, the only way to recan them is to use a larger can.

The True Meaning of Some Words Commonly Used by Engineers

OFFICE – A small room where engineers are seldom found among ringing telephones buried beneath mountains of paper.
DRAFTING ROOM – A larger room filled with tables covered with larger mountains of paper. Engineers not found in the LAB (defined below) are usually found here [holding technical conferences, also see next entry] with designers.
LAB – A larger room filled with impressive (expensive) test equipment and coffee pots. This facility is used by engineers to drink coffee and hold technical conferences (about their cars, or other important matters).
CONFERENCE ROOM – A meeting room designed specifically for [technical] sessions.
EO – Stands for Engineering Order (to change drawings). This very important document allows the engineer to correct previous mistakes and make new ones thus creating mountains of paper.
DRAWING – A large EO with ample room for more mistakes (see above definition).
SPEC – Abbreviation for specification – A lot of words (nobody understands) attempting to describe something that doesn’t work.
DRM – The Drafting Room Manual – A big book of instructions on how to draw mistakes properly.
ENGINEER – A person highly educated in the skills of creating paperwork and drinking coffee.
DESIGNER – Same as the above except more skilled at drinking coffee.
TECHNICIAN – A person sometimes found in the LAB (see above) who is highly skilled in turning knobs on test equipment and making coffee.
MACHINIST – A person skilled in reading drawings and making metal mistakes that look like the ones on the drawings plus adding a few of their own.


Do i learn all these in Mechanical Engineering? Seems hefty to memorize

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Mechanical engineering can be summarized in two laws:

  1. F = ma
  2. You can’t push a rope

You’ll run across a lot of them, particularly once you leave school for The Real World.

Of course, they won’t always be labeled.

Oh, and @Basel_A… For mechanical engineers, if ΣF=0, it’s probably a Civil Engineering problem. :wink:


Thanks for this, lotta good laughs in there :slight_smile:

I feel like my team’s name is being targeted here… :cry:
Also, hint as to the [redacted] part of Murphy’s 5th law?

Has anyone ever used the name “Murphy’s Law Enforcement” for a team?


What about cole’s law?

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On 1257, we have three rules of engineering.

  1. Always use the right tool for the job.
  2. The right tool is always a hammer.
  3. Anything can be a hammer.

One of our former electronics captains was a big fan of the spinny-cutty-robot hammer, more commonly known as the CNC router.


I redacted it so the forum naughty-word filters wouldn’t. Not a compliment. Starts with a “b”.


Conway’s Law was not in the list above and I find it to be true and relevant, particularly when dealing with any FIRST related organizations:

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.

Also the list above has only one of Clarke’s Laws and it is arguably the least important of them. The first one is far more relevant for CD:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.


“The best model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat.” - Norbert Weiner

Some of these are repeated in Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design.


I got curious and decided to take a look–I didn’t find anything though I could swear someone’s done it before. But 677, 2924, 4042, and of course 4681 have used variants of “Murphy’s Law”. As follows:

677: Murphy’s Outlaws
2924: Murphy’s Lawyers*
4042: Murphy’s Lawyers*
4681: Murphy’s Law

*4042 and 2924 have no relation that I can tell. Neither is currently active, and they didn’t compete at the same time or on the same coast.


Good thing. She is also vindictive. Any doubters have not paid attention to 2020.


There’s a team in NE called Murphy’s Lawyers

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Was… See my last post, 4042.

Now I really want to start a team, call them Murphy’s Lawpersons, and go head-to-head with 677…

Ahhh sorry, didn’t see your response when I posted! I didn’t realize they were no longer around: though now that you mention it I haven’t seen them at comps in a while.

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There’s also Joe’s Law of Electromechanical Systems: “Each and every electromechanical system will ultimately fail;” the axiom keeping mechanics, electricians, contractors of every sort employed.

Excerpt From: Joe Petito. “Ditching Shop Class: Eliminating Vocational Education in America’s Public Schools.” iBooks.

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Isn’t “everything will fail” simply the definition of entropy?


Occam’s re-assembly: Leftover parts are proof you made it even better.