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It all began in 1990

You know how you can think that things have existed basically forever (like, say, the song "Happy Birthday to You") and then discover that no, they have a knowable and more-or-less datable origin (like the mid-nineteenth century for the combination of words and tune for "Happy Birthday to You" source)?

Well, the other day wakanomori and I were having a conversation about I-don't-even-remember-what, and guess who came up as a figure of comparison? Hitler! And we both laughed and joked about Godwin's Law. ("As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.")

And then we got to wondering when this became a thing. Was it like Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong, will")--a name just randomly attaching to an adage? Not likely, I thought, because the statement is so particular. (Incidentally, Wikipedia has a history of how and when Murphy's Law got to be called Murphy's Law, here.)

And indeed, it turns out to have a quite particular origin. There really is a Godwin--Mr. Mike Godwin, an American attorney.

Mike Godwin (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)


He articulated his law in 1990. There is a Wikipedia entry about it (here). And yes, I do know Wikipedia isn't always reliable, but it cites this Wired article by Godwin himself, describing how he went about seeding the meme.

Fascinating! (Imagine Spock eyebrow lift. Actually, would Spock speak in exclamation points? Gentle ones, maybe?)



Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
sartorias
Apr. 15th, 2015 12:52 pm (UTC)
The link doesn't work (did you do that on purpose?) but it does take one to Wikipedia, so I typed in Murphy's Law, and got a smile.
asakiyume
Apr. 15th, 2015 01:27 pm (UTC)
No! That's by mistake--I'll fix it.
asakiyume
Apr. 15th, 2015 01:31 pm (UTC)
Okay, fixed now! (LJ doesn't like urls with apostrophes in them)
dudeshoes
Apr. 15th, 2015 02:16 pm (UTC)
I learned about Godwin's Law from Andrew Sullivan's late, lamented blog. Sigh. But now I can rely on you to fill me in on such things if need be.
asakiyume
Apr. 16th, 2015 02:16 pm (UTC)
I'll endeavor to do my best--but Andrew Sullivan was unique :-)
yamamanama
Apr. 15th, 2015 06:22 pm (UTC)
I don't remember how I learned about Godwin's Law. Maybe because it's been in our collective consciousness as long as I've been on the internet.

Also, did you see the entry I posted on Monday night?
asakiyume
Apr. 16th, 2015 02:17 pm (UTC)
I wonder if Godwin's law could be extended to heated conversations that *aren't* online. In debates in person, do things eventually get to comparisons with Nazis, or is it only online?

ckd
Apr. 15th, 2015 06:36 pm (UTC)
I don't think I saw the original 1990 posting (which may have been on the WELL; I didn't get a WELL account until 1991), but the earliest findable mention of Godwin's Law in the Google USENET archives is a 1991 rec.arts.sf-lovers thread that I remember reading in its original form. (Unsurprisingly, it's about Orson Scott Card's views on homosexuality. That's an OLD debate.)

One thing about that 1991 post is that by August (when it was posted), he was a coworker of mine and I was the person responsible for running the USENET server Mike posted it through. (It's quite possible that he posted it while literally one room away from me, if we were both in the office at the time.)
asakiyume
Apr. 16th, 2015 02:20 pm (UTC)
That is SO COOL that you worked with the Actual Godwin.

There needs to be a law about how if you're active online, you'll end up meeting the coolest people.
duccio
Apr. 15th, 2015 11:49 pm (UTC)
Seen on the trackless wastes of the internets a few days ago...
       photo This-person-whorsquos-confused..jpg

asakiyume
Apr. 16th, 2015 02:29 pm (UTC)
You have to feel a little sorry for commenter no. 3, venturing onto the highway on a tricycle, shaking his fist.
duccio
Apr. 19th, 2015 06:25 am (UTC)
LOL.
heliopausa
Apr. 16th, 2015 12:27 am (UTC)
Re: Spock - no, I'm quite sure that he would manage without exclamation marks. :)
asakiyume
Apr. 16th, 2015 02:30 pm (UTC)
Indubitably ^_-

(It's a raised eyebrow, get it?)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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