Godwin’s Law

atkins-bookshelf-phrasesDefinition: An internet adage that states that given enough time in an online discussion on just about any topic, a person will inevitably make some comparison to the Nazis or Hitler.

Variants: Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies, Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies

Origin: The law was coined in 1990 by Mike Godwin, an American author and attorney who was the first counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and also served as general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation; he is currently the senior policy advisor at Internews. The law as originally stated by Godwin reads, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Godwin’s Law entered the official English lexicon when it was included in the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition) in 2012.

Godwin believes that such analogies tend to trivialize the Holocaust. Speaking to the New York Daily Intelligencer, Godwin elaborates on his motivation for formulating Godwin’s Law: “[The Holocaust] is the worst thing anybody can think of, so if you have some kind of rhetorical escalation with someone you disagree with, it’s sort of easy to go there if you’re not very reflective about what you’re saying.The thing it seemed to me worth doing was to prevent the Holocaust from turning into a cliché, or into a handy arrow in someone’s rhetorical quiver. I was entering into the online world pretty deeply in the eighties, and I was offended by how glibly these comparisons came up — almost invariably inappropriately. My feeling was that the more people got into this habit, the less likely that people remembered the historical context of all this. And as you know, one of the injunctions of Holocaust historians is that we must never forget, we have to remember.” When asked what he though of having a law named after him in the company of the giants of science (e.g., Newton or Einstein), Godwin maintains a humble perspective: “The purpose of [Godwin’s Law] was the label and to implicitly ridicule, in a reductive way, people who fell into these lazy, glib comparisons. So its purpose is fundamentally rhetorical, rather than scientific or observational.”

Read related post: Phrases Asscociated with the Hindenburg
The Thirteen Commandments

For further reading: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/03/godwins-law-mike-godwin-hitler-nazi-comparisons.html
Oxford English Dictionary Online Edition, Oxford University Press (2012)

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