Amazon Deals

New at Amazon

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Official Rules

For a change of pace, here's a selection of "The Official Rules," drawn largely from Paul Dickson's venerable book of the same name:*

Fourth Law of Thermodynamics. If the probability of success is not almost one, then it is damn near zero.
- David Ellis ("Some Precise Formulations on the Alleged Perversity of Nature," 1957)

Proverbial Law. For every proverb that so confidently asserts its little bit of wisdom, there is usually an equal and opposite proverb that contradicts it.**
- Richard Boston (The New Statesman, 9 October 1970)

Wolf's Law of Historical Lessons. Those who don't study the past will repeat its errors. Those who do study it will find other ways to err.
- Charles Wolf, Jr. (reported by Robert Specht of the RAND Corporation)

Gardner's Rule of Society. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing
because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy
because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
- John W. Gardner (Forbes, 1 August 1977)

Somewhat related is:

Hoffer's Infrastructure Conjecture. It is the capacity for maintenance that is the best test for the vigor and stamina of a society. Any society can be galvanized for a while to build something, but the will and the skill to keep things in good repair, day in and day out, are fairly rare.
- Eric Hoffer (America's "peoples philosopher," attributed)

Runyon's Law. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
- Damon Runyon (U.S. short-story writer, attributed)

Tom Jones's Law. Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.
- Dr. Thomas Jones (one-time president of the University of South Carolina)

Herbert's Law. He who is not handsome at twenty, nor strong at thirty, nor rich at forty, nor wise at fifty, will never be handsome, strong, rich, or wise.
- George Herbert (1593-1633) (Jacula Prudentum)

Three of my favorites:

Algren's Precepts. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never play cards with a
man named Doc. And never lie down with a woman whose troubles are greater
than your own.
- Nelson Algren ("What Every Young Man Should Know")

Wingwalking, First Law of. Never let go of what you've got until you grab hold of something new.
- Donald Herzberg (former dean of Georgetown's graduate school)

The First Law of Expert Advice. Never ask your barber if you need a haircut.
- source unknown

* N.B. Paul Dickson, The Official Rules, Delta, New York, 1978. Mr. Dickson is a very prolific free-lance writer, still active here in Washington, D.C.

** For example, "Many hands make light work" vs "Too many cooks spoil the broth."

A visual addendum:

Taken from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email.  Leave your email address in the comments if you want to be added to his list.


  1. Working as a contractor for the Army, I could use a smile each morning...Thanks!

  2. May I add "Counting trees is the easiest way to lose track of the forest"? It's from a paper I wrote many years ago on large-scale systems engineering.


  4. - thanks


  6. The "Fourth Law of Thermodynamics" is known to mathematicians as a zero--one law.