Finagle’s Law


Finagle’s Law, also known as the “Law of Dynamic Negatives,” is a tongue-in-cheek adage that states, “Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible time.” It is essentially a humorous expression of the more famous Murphy’s Law, emphasizing the seemingly inevitable nature of mishaps and problems in complex systems or situations. The term is typically used in the context of technology, engineering, and various other fields where unexpected challenges may arise.


Finagle’s Law: /fɪˈneɪɡəlz lɔː/

Key Takeaways

  1. Finagle’s Law is a tongue-in-cheek adage in the vein of Murphy’s Law, stating that “Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment.”
  2. It is often attributed to a fictional character named Finagle, although its true origin is uncertain and likely derived from multiple sources such as the writings of John W. Campbell and Arthur Bloch.
  3. Finagle’s Law highlights the importance of planning for potential problems and contingencies in any project or situation, as unexpected issues are bound to arise under less than ideal circumstances.


Finagle’s Law, also known as Murphy’s Law, is an adage that emphasizes the unpredictability and potential for things to go wrong in technology and other aspects of life.

The saying, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” encapsulates the importance of understanding that unforeseen issues or problems can arise within any technological system or project.

This concept plays a crucial role in the development, maintenance, and troubleshooting of technology, as it encourages engineers, developers, and other professionals to be prepared for unexpected challenges, to plan for contingencies, and to focus on robustness and redundancy in their designs.

By being mindful of Finagle’s Law, individuals can help mitigate potential risks, reduce downtime, and improve overall system reliability and efficiency.


Finagle’s Law, also known as Murphy’s Law, has its origins in the field of engineering and design, and though it might not be a technology term in the strictest sense, it has made a significant impact on how people approach problem-solving in technological development. The spirit of Finagle’s Law is the notion that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong; this adage serves to remind designers, engineers, and developers to anticipate and mitigate potential pitfalls, challenges, and risks during the conception, creation, and maintenance phases of any project.

By considering worst-case scenarios and understanding that things may not always go as planned, teams can develop more resilient and reliable systems, products, and services. In technology, Finagle’s Law encourages developers to adopt best practices such as thorough testing, meticulous documentation, and deliberate attention to detail.

This approach leads to improved user experiences, robustness in the face of unforeseen circumstances, and more streamlined troubleshooting. For example, software engineers may implement rigorous testing protocols, including unit tests, integration tests, and stress tests, to ensure that their code is resilient to unexpected errors and unpredictable situations.

Similarly, hardware engineers may simulate extreme conditions and simulate various failure modes to improve the reliability of their designs. By embracing Finagle’s Law, organizations strengthen the value and effectiveness of technological solutions, ultimately driving efficiency, innovation, and success.

Examples of Finagle’s Law

Finagle’s Law, also known as the “Law of Ruin,” is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek extension of Murphy’s Law, suggesting that anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible time. Although it’s difficult to pin down specific events explicitly driven by Finagle’s Law, the following real-world examples epitomize catastrophes or mishaps occurring at the most inopportune moments:

Challenger Space Shuttle Explosion (1986):The tragic loss of the Challenger space shuttle was due to the failure of an O-ring seal on a rocket booster. Cold weather on the day of the launch compromised the seal’s performance, causing a catastrophic explosion 73 seconds into flight. In this unfortunate situation, the worst-case scenario occurred at the worst possible time, leading to the loss of seven astronauts’ lives.

Titanic Sinking (1912):This disaster represents a series of unfortunate events unfolding at the worst possible time. The Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912 ended in tragedy when it struck an iceberg and sank, claiming 1,503 lives. Several factors led to the disaster: the ship moving at full speed in an ice field, the crew not having enough binoculars to spot the iceberg, and a shortage of lifeboats to carry the ship’s passengers to safety. The events aligned in such a way that the unthinkable occurred at the worst time.

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster (2011):The Fukushima nuclear disaster was the result of a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami hitting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. The disaster led to a series of equipment failures, meltdowns, and releases of radioactive material. The earthquake and tsunami occurred at the worst possible time, when the plant was vulnerable due to multiple reactors operating and staff stretched thin. In this case, the meltdowns and explosions that occurred exemplify the misfortune as described by Finagle’s Law.While these examples share the spirit of Finagle’s Law, it’s essential to acknowledge that they are largely seen as tragic events with severe consequences. Finagle’s Law is commonly associated with humorous or even lighthearted contexts—the types of inconvenient accidents that can be laughed off.

FAQ: Finagle’s Law

What is Finagle’s Law?

Finagle’s Law, also known as Murphy’s Law, is an adage stating that if anything can go wrong, it will. It is attributed to American aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy, Jr., who is said to have coined the phrase as part of his work on military aircraft in the 1940s.

What is the origin of Finagle’s Law?

The origin of Finagle’s Law dates back to 1949, when Edward A. Murphy, Jr., an aerospace engineer, was working on a high-speed rocket sled project. While testing the project, a series of mishaps occurred, leading Murphy to exasperatedly state, “If there’s any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.” The law was later popularized and became synonymous with the idea that if something can go wrong, it will.

What are some examples of Finagle’s Law in action?

Examples of Finagle’s Law in action can be found in everyday life, such as running out of gas just before reaching a gas station, dropping toast only to have it land butter-side down, or experiencing unexpected computer crashes right before an important deadline. These are all instances where something went wrong when it was least expected or desired.

How does Finagle’s Law relate to the concept of entropy?

Finagle’s Law relates to the concept of entropy in that it highlights the tendency of systems to become more disordered over time. The idea that “if anything can go wrong, it will” is an illustration of this natural inclination towards chaos, which is a fundamental principle of the second law of thermodynamics.

Is Finagle’s Law a scientifically proven phenomenon?

Though Finagle’s Law is not a scientifically proven phenomenon, it is a popular concept used to describe the seemingly inherent tendency for things to go wrong when left to chance. The law reflects an observation made in various aspects of life, and many people experience situations in which it appears to hold true. However, it is not an evidence-based principle, but rather a colloquialism that sums up the unpredictability and uncertainty present in everyday life.

Related Technology Terms

  • Murphy’s Law
  • Probability Theory
  • Chaos Theory
  • Law of Ruin
  • Stochastic Processes

Sources for More Information


About The Authors

The DevX Technology Glossary is reviewed by technology experts and writers from our community. Terms and definitions continue to go under updates to stay relevant and up-to-date. These experts help us maintain the almost 10,000+ technology terms on DevX. Our reviewers have a strong technical background in software development, engineering, and startup businesses. They are experts with real-world experience working in the tech industry and academia.

See our full expert review panel.

These experts include:


About Our Editorial Process

At DevX, we’re dedicated to tech entrepreneurship. Our team closely follows industry shifts, new products, AI breakthroughs, technology trends, and funding announcements. Articles undergo thorough editing to ensure accuracy and clarity, reflecting DevX’s style and supporting entrepreneurs in the tech sphere.

See our full editorial policy.

More Technology Terms

Technology Glossary

Table of Contents