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

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

by Paul Dickson


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This new, vastly expanded and enriched version of The Official Rules presents precisely 5,427 laws, principles, rules, proverbs, and aphorisms collected by Paul Dickson and the esteemed Fellows of the Murphy Center for the Codification of Human and Organizational Law. This often amusing, sometimes profound, collection of "official rules" was gathered one rule at a time over more than forty years from pundits, prophets, and everyday folks. It provides a means of coping in a world of human error and foibles where nothing is ever as simple as it seems, everything takes longer than expected, and inanimate objects possess an innate perversity. In sum it is rich testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit in facing the pitfalls and potholes of modern life. Though the vast majority of these life lessons were gathered in the 20th century, they are still timely and concise enough to fit inside the framework of a tweet. Recognizing the humor in adversity, these comic truths encourage acceptance of life's little imperfections. For example, Agnes Allen's timeless law: Almost anything is easier to get into than out of.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486482101
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 11/21/2013
Series: Dover Humor Series
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Paul Dickson is a consulting editor for Dover and the author of over 50 books, many of them on language and slang. He has written introductions for most of the books in our baseball series and for all of the volumes in our NASA reprint series. His Baseball Is . . . appears on our current list.

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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

By Paul Dickson

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Paul Dickson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-79717-5


The Rules A to Z


Abbott's Admonitions. (1) If you have to ask, you're not entitled to know. (2) If you don't like the answer, you shouldn't have asked the question. (Charles C. Abbott, former Dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia; AO.)

Abercrombie's Theory of Parallel Universes. There exists a parallel universe into which all our lost objects are sucked, never to be seen again. (Denis Abercrombie; from Larry Groebe.)

Abley's Explanation. Marriage is the only union that cannot be organized. Both sides think they are management. (William J. Abley, Kamloops, British Columbia.)

Abourezk's First Eight Laws of Politics. (1) Anybody who really would change things for the better in this country could never be elected president anyway. (2) Don't worry about your enemies; it's your allies who will do you in. (3) In politics people will do whatever is necessary to get their way. (4) The bigger the appropriations bill, the shorter the debate. (5) If a politician has a choice between listening and talking, guess which one he will choose. (6) When voting on the confirmation of a presidential appointment, it's always safer to vote against the son of a bitch, because if he is confirmed, it won't be long before he proves how wise you were. (7) If you want to curry favor with a politician, give him credit for something that someone else did. (8) Don't blame me, I voted for McGovern. (Senator James Abourezk, from his article "Life Inside the Congressional Cookie Jar," Playboy, March 1979. When elected in 1973, he became the first Arab-American to serve in the United States Senate.)

Abramson's Law of Bachelorhood. Always have plenty of underwear. (Joe Abramson; from Dallas Brozik, Huntington, West Virginia.)

Abrams's Advice. When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time. (General Creighton W. Abrams; HE.)

Abrey's Law. The motive for motiveless crimes is that the wrongdoers wish to demonstrate their own rottenness. (John Abrey, Cleveland, England.)

Accounting, The Four Laws of. (1) Trial balances don't. (2) Working capital doesn't. (3) Liquidity tends to run out. (4) Return on investments never will. (Anonymous.)

Accuracy, Rule of. When working toward the solution of a problem, it always helps if you know the answer. Advanced Corollary: Provided, of course, you know there is a problem. (Also known by other titles, such as the Ultimate Law of Accuracy; AIC.)

Acheson's Comment on Experts. An expert is like a eunuch in a harem—someone who knows all about it but can't do anything about it. (Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson; recalled by Harold P. Smith for AO.)

Acheson's Rule of the Bureaucracy. A memorandum is written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer. (Dean Acheson, as Secretary of State; recalled by Harold P. Smith for AO.)

Achilles' Biological Findings. (1) If a child looks like his father, that's heredity. If he looks like a neighbor, that's environment. (2) A lot of time has been wasted arguing over who came first—the chicken or the egg. It was undoubtedly the rooster. (The late Ambassador Theodore C. Achilles, Washington, D.C.)

Ackley's Axiom. The degree of technical competence is inversely proportional to the level of management. (Bob Ackley, T. Sgt., USAF, Plattsmouth, Nebraska. He adds, "Originally defined—in 1967—as, 'The level of intelligence is inversely proportional to the number of stripes,' then I had to modify it as I accrued more stripes.")

Ackley's Lastest Business Findings. (1) A man who'll steal for you, will steal from you. (2) If you are a big enough company, your mistakes become standards. (Bob Ackley, Plattsmouth, Nebraska, who dedicated his second business finding to IBM.)

Ackley's Law. Every recovery is hailed by an incumbent president as the result of his own wise policies, while every recession is condemned by him as the result of the mistaken policies of his predecessor. (Gardner Ackley, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Lyndon B. Johnson, who revealed his law upon his retirement as professor of economics at the University of Michigan; from Neal Wilgus, Albuquerque, New Mexico.)

Ackley's Second Axiom. Familiarity breeds attempt. (See Ackley's Lastest Business Findings.)

Ackley's Third Law of Roller Skating. Everyone spends at least some time on the floor—or sidewalk. (See Ackley's Lastest Business Findings.)

Acton's Law. Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Lord Acton; Co. This is, perhaps, the most oft-quoted of all political tenets. There are many variations on Acton's Law. Here is one from the "Vent" column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 25, 2004, "Power corrupts, but absolute power is kind of neat." Then there is the variation which appeared in one of John Leo's collections of top axioms—this one for the year 1995, "All vodka corrupts; Absolut Vodka corrupts absolutely," which he attributed to author Steve Kanfer—Washington Times, December 23, 1995.)

ACW's Theorems of Practical Physics. (1) When reading a magazine story, it is always continued on an unnumbered page—usually in the middle of the special advertising section. (2) The value of an object is inversely proportional to the security of its packaging (compare a 25¢ package of faucet washers with the velvet-lined box containing a $6,000 diamond ring). (3) The volume times the frequency of the neighboring dog's bark is inversely proportional to the intelligence of its owner. (Ashley C. Worsley, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

Adams's Axiom. It doesn't matter what you say, as long as you keep talking. (Harold "Buck" Adams, Capt., USAF, c. 1974; from Bob Ackley, Plattsmouth, Nebraska.)

Adams's Law. (1) Women don't know what they want; they don't like what they have got. (2) Men know very well what they want; having got it, they begin to lose interest. (A. W. Adams, Magdalen College, Oxford, England.)

Adam's Law of Gossip. Ninety-two percent of the stuff told you in confidence you couldn't get anyone else to listen to. (Journalist, poet, and humorist Franklin Pierce Adams.)

Adams's Political Discovery. Practical politics consist of ignoring facts. (Historian Henry Adams.)

Adams's Reality. Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.)

Addis's Admonitions. (1) If it don't fit in a pigeonhole, maybe it ain't a pigeon. (2) Never play cat-and-mouse games if you're a mouse. (3) Ambiguity is the first refuge of the wrong. (4) The shadow of your goalpost is better than no shade at all. (5) There's no cure for the common scold. (6) The weak shall inhibit the earth. (7) You will never see a cat obedience school. (Don Addis, St. Petersburg, Florida, cartoonist and columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, whose first rule of humor is "If you're going to joke—be funny.")

Addis's Collected Wisdom. (1) A lawmaker's work is never done. He sees to that. (2) What mindless drivel goes unsaid, when teenagers say "like, ya know" instead. (3) No paper bag can hold all the garbage produced by the groceries that came into the house in it. (4) Relativity: It only seems like an eternity between the time a glass is empty and the time the kid stops going "guuuurk" with the straw. (5) No human on earth can refold a road map, but some excellent origami and paper airplanes have resulted from the effort. (6) If there were only one wrong way to wire your VCR to the TV, you would find it on the first try. (7) I drink—therefore rye am. (8) Nobody will leave you alone—until you want company. (9) A magazine that travels thousands of miles in the care of the Postal Service will wait until you bring it in the house to drop its loose subscription cards on the floor. (10) If the instructions on the child-proof cap say to push down hard while twisting, the contents are arthritis medicine. If it can only be opened by tearing at it with your teeth, it's denture cream. (11) If wishes were horses, you could horse upon a star. (12) The chief advantage of homo sapiens getting up on two feet was that they then could distinguish their dogs from their children. (13) Infinity is nature's way of putting things off. (14) OK, so what's the speed of dark? (15) The only time you'll know what people really think of your beard is after you've shaved it off. (16) The problem with the genetic pool is that there is no lifeguard. (17) Life is not too short; it's too narrow. (18) There's nothing that can happen on a football field that can't be described with a cliché. (19) After you have submitted to toilet training, every act of rebellion is anticlimactic. (20) Western man is the only creature that shows its appreciation for the beauties of nature by encasing them in plastic. (21) A barking dog never bites, but he may stop barking at any moment. (22) There is no substitute for Honorable Mention. (23) He who takes comfort in the overwhelming odds against being hit by lightning will be convinced the same odds cannot prevent him from winning the lottery. (24) Beat a better door mouse and the path will build a trap to your world. (25) Any given company policy, rules or procedure will outlast everybody's memory of why it was instituted. (26) If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. (27) Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film. (28) Shin: a device for finding furniture in the dark. (29) Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines. (Don Addis, St. Petersburg, Florida.)

Addis's Remark on the Current State of Affairs. Our main social activities are whining and dining. (Don Addis, St. Petersburg, Florida.)

Adenauer's Advice. An infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured. (Dr. Conrad Adenauer.)

Ade's Law. Anybody can win—unless there happens to be a second entry. (American humorist George Ade; PQ.)

Ade's Reminder. A bird in the hand may be worth two in the bush, but remember also that a bird in the hand is a positive embarrassment to one not in the poultry business. (American humorist George Ade.)

Adkin's Rule of Milk and Other Precious Commodities. The less you have, the more you spill. (Betsy Adkins, Gardiner, Maine.)

Adlai's Axiom. He who slings mud generally loses ground. (Adlai Stevenson, 1954; MLS.)

Adler's Distinction. Language is all that separates us from the lower animals, and from the bureaucrats. (Jerry Adler, Newsweek, December 15, 1980; RS.)

Adler's Explanation. Life intrudes. (Pet expression of acting teacher Stella Adler, widely quoted.)

Advertising Admonition. In writing a patent medicine advertisement, first convince the reader that he has the disease he is reading about, secondly, that it is curable. (R. F. Fenno, 1908.)

Advertising Agency Song, The. When your client's hopping mad, put his picture in the ad. If he still should prove refractory, add a picture of his factory. (Anonymous, from Pith and Vinegar, edited by William Cole, Simon & Schuster, 1969.)

Advice to Officers of the British Army. (1) Ignorance of your profession is best concealed by solemnity and silence, which pass for profound knowledge upon the generality of mankind. A proper attention to these, together with extreme severity, particularly in trifles, will soon procure you the character of a good officer. (2) As you probably did not rise to your present distinguished rank by your own merit, it cannot reasonably be expected that you should promote others on that score. (3) Be sure to give out a number of orders.... The more trifling they are, the more it shews (sic) your attention to the service; and should your orders contradict one another, it will give you an opportunity of altering them, and find subject for fresh regulations. (Discovered by Stuart G. Vogt of Clarkesville, Tennessee, who has a copy of the sixth edition of Advice to the Officers of the British Army, published in 1783.)

Agel's Law of Tennis Doubles in which a Husband and Wife are on the Same Side. Whenever the husband poaches on his wife's side of the court and shouts, "I've got it, I've got it," you can safely bet that he doesn't. (Jerome Agel, The New York Times, July 30, 1980.)

Agnes Allen's Law. Almost anything is easier to get into than out of. (Agnes Allen was the wife of the famous historian Frederick Lewis Allen. When her husband was teaching at Yale, he encountered an ambitious student named Louis Zahner, who wanted to create and be remembered for a law of his own. Zahner worked on it and finally hit upon one that states: "If you play with anything long enough it will break." Inspired by his student, Allen then went to work on his own and came up with Allen's Law: "Everything is more complicated than it looks to most people." Agnes Allen then got into the act and proceeded to outdistance Zahner and her husband by creating the law that to this day carries her full name. Frederick Allen later wrote of his wife's law: "... at one stroke human wisdom had been advanced to an unprecedented degree." All of this was revealed in a column by Jack Smith in the Los Angeles Times after he had researched the question of who Murphy and Agnes Allen were. Needless to say, he proved Ms. Allen's law in the process. Personal Note from the Director: Over time this law has proven to have great personal value as "anything" applies to everything from arguments, to debt, to installment plans, to committees. It is most useful as a caution. I still serve on the occasional committee and attend an occasional meeting, but I have chosen not to serve on others thanks to this law. It seems like it was created to keep me questioning new levels of involvement which may be superfluous, costly and/ or a bona fide waste of time.)

Agrait's Law. A rumor will travel fastest to the place where it will cause the greatest harm. (Gustavo N. Agrait, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.)

AIR (Annals of Improbable Research) Dining Principle #1. If you go to a restaurant that's called "So-and-so's X House," or "House of X," or "X Grill," you should order the X. Example: If you go to a restaurant called "Frank's Steak House," order the steak. Explanation: Go to a restaurant called "Frank's Steak House" and order the veal scaloppini. You will immediately see why you should have ordered the steak. (Mini-Annals of Improbable Research ("mini-AIR") Issue # 2001–02.)

Air Force Inertia Axiom. Consistency is always easier to defend than correctness. (Anonymous; from Russell Fillers, Bethel, Connecticut.)

Air Force Law. Two percent don't get the word. (U/LSP.)

Airline Food Facts. Believe it or not, there are only two things wrong with airline food—One, the food. Two, the way it's prepared. (In an ad for Midway Metrolink, The New York Times, June 7, 1983; JCG.)

Airplane Law. When the plane you are on is late, the plane you want to transfer to is on time. (U/S.T.L.)

Akre's Axiom. Do not readily ascribe to malice what can be more easily ascribed to incompetence. Akre's Corollary: Beware of malicious incompetent! (James Akre, Confignon, Switzerland.)

Albert's Law of the Sea. The more they are in a fog, the more boats (and people) toot their horns. (Bernard L. Albert, M.D., Scarsdale, New York.)

Albinak's Algorithm. When graphing a function, the width of the line should beinversely proportional to the precision of the data. (Marvin J. Albinak, Professor of Chemistry, Essex Community College, Baltimore, Maryland.)

Albrecht's Analogy. I have a vacuum-tube mind in a solid-state world. (George Albrecht, Bethesda, Maryland.)

Albrecht's Epistolary Effort. Troublesome correspondence that is postponed long enough will eventually become irrelevant. (Mark Albrecht; from Brooks Alexander, Berkeley, California. Belden Menkus of Hillsboro, Tennessee has pointed out that this "appears to be a reworking of an anecdote that I first heard some 40 years ago. In that account, it was Napoleon Bonaparte's practice when in the field to simply stack incoming correspondence in a pile on the desk that was set up in his tent; upon being asked why he did this, he gave the response cited by Albrecht.")

Alcoholic Axiom. The effort and energy an intoxicated person spends trying to prove he is sober is directly proportionate to how intoxicated he is. (Randall L. Koch, Kenosha, Wisconsin.)

Alden's Laws. (1) Giving away baby clothes and furniture is a major cause of pregnancy. (2) Always be backlit. (3) Sit down whenever possible. (Nancy Alden, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.)


Excerpted from The Official Rules by Paul Dickson. Copyright © 2013 Paul Dickson. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Source Codes,
The Rules A to Z,
Special Sections:,
Bureaucratic Survival Kit—Essential Items,
Business Maxims,
Energy Matters,
The Finagle File,
How to Tell the Difference between Democrats and Republicans,
Irregular Verbs,
Lawyers' Language,
Miseries of 1806,
Murphylogical Research—1976 Findings,
Murphylogical Research—1980 Findings,
Old Saws Resharpened,
The Parkinson Contribution,
Revised Proverbs,
Tests and Examinations,
Why This Book Will Bring You Luck,
Work Rules,
The Murphy Center Newsletter—Vol. 1, No. 1,
Note from Murphy Center's Director for Life,
Senior Fellowships,

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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 Inan 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paul Dickson and his growing list of colleagues from “The Murphy Center” (as in Murphy’s Law) have been assembling and publishing various versions of “The Official Rules” for more than thirty years. This 2013 Dover edition is the latest, greatest, and most authoritative collection. It includes a mix of those “rules of life and the universe” which are well-established in science (Moore’s Law in computers), known by name in modern culture (such as the Peter Principle), well known but not previously named (Crane’s Law: “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” derived from a 1959 book), and many which are lesser known but just as true (for example, Jan’s Measure, “there’s an ounce of truth in every pound of lie.”) Some of them are just plain funny (Jones’ Maxim, “a man on his high horse should enter his horse into rehab “), while others comprise smart advice from unexpected sources (i.e. Hellmann’s Principle, “keep cool but do not freeze,” which is surely as good a piece of advice for life in general as it is for its original intent, the storage of mayonnaise). This collection is indispensable reading- you might put it down from time to time, but are guaranteed to pick it back up, turn to another page, and either laugh, smile, or knowingly nod and murmur “aaah, so true.” In fact, after reading through it, you will soon be- at least to yourself- reminded of the appropriate aphorisms in everyday situations, and quoting them to friends and family. Highly recommended!