Coyne’s Laws of Life

March 10, 2023 • 8:15 am

Once again I’m racked with insomnia, intensified, I suppose, by jet lag. The result is that I probably get about 1-2 hours of sleep at night and can’t even fall asleep when I attempt a midday nap. We all have our burdens, and this is mine.

As the night turtles by, I’m instructed not to worry about falling asleep, which causes anxiety, so I try to think of other things. Last night I compiled a mental list of “Coyne’s Laws,” a list of observations about life that I began as a teenager. There aren’t many of them, but I bet readers have their own Laws. As I can’t brain today, I’ll give my list; I may have mentioned some of these before.


Always button your shirts from the bottom up; that way you will never mis-button them.

When running a bath or shower, always turn the cold water on first and then the hot; this ensures that you won’t get scalded.

If a man recounts a problem to you, he wants a practical solution. If a women recounts a problem to you, she wants an empathic hearing and, unless she asks for them, does NOT want solutions. Likewise, men faced with a friend’s problem, regardless of whether the friend is male or female, will immediately try to solve it by giving advice. Women, on the other hand, will be empathic and solicitous of your situation. That’s why some of my best friends are women, and why, when faced with another’s problem, I try to act in the female-like way. (This does not apply to problems like how to make a syllabus, which explicitly require a practical solution. Also, this is a generalization, not a law. I make no claims about whether this results from evolution or socialization.)

Be sure to floss once a day to save your teeth and gums. I highly recommend Listerine Reach UltraClean Dental Floss®, which my hygienist (who put me onto the stuff) says is no longer made. Immediately order tons of it from Amazon, as it’s still for sale there. The stuff is mint-flavored, unwaxed, thin, stretchy, and does a great job. I’ve never found better.  I now have several years’ worth.


Coyne’s First Law: Everyone thinks that they have a good sense of humor. (Observation: Some people have no sense of humor. Conclusion: Many people are fooling themselves.)

Coyne’s Second Law: Everyone thinks that they’re a “little bit nuts”, but always in a nice way. That is, everyone thinks they have some amusing eccentricities. (Observation: While this belief is nearly ubiquitous, some people are nuts but not in a nice way.)

Coyne’s Third Law: Nobody thinks they’re a jerk. (Observation: quite a few people are big-time jerks. Conclusion: many people have no self-awareness.)


All snack foods that are meant to be healthy eventually evolve into forms of confectionary. Examples: granola bars, once solidified blocks of tasteless grains, are turning into candy bars, covered with chocolate and sometimes containing raisins or even chocolate chips; thanks to Starbucks, coffee has turned into the adult equivalent of ice cream sodas; and fizzy water (known to we Jews as “seltzer” or “two cents plain?”) has acquired flavors and now is getting bit of added sugar as it inevitably gets turned into soda pop.

All ice cream manufacturers eventually shrink the size of their largest container while maintaining the price. (There are a few exceptions to this: honest companies who proudly offer the full half gallon.) My post about this last June, “The ice cream scams“, was the third most popular post I ever put on this site, tapping into a hidden vein of resentment permeating the American public.  There’s also a corollary: “All ice creams eventually become ‘frozen dairy desserts’,” which are cheaper to make. Unless you look closely, you won’t even notice. Do not be fooled.

I have begun formulating a new set of laws, which are mine. Here is the first one:


Any Facebook post that beings with “I am honored. . .” inevitably involves braggadocio: a description of some award or achievement that the poster wants either their friends or the whole world to know about. What “I am honored” really means is: “Look what I got!”

I’m sure you have your own rules that haven’t been codified into rules or laws, but if you have these kinds of personal generalizations, please put them into the comments.

85 thoughts on “Coyne’s Laws of Life

    1. Well, that’s what my dental hygienist told me; I cannot verify it. She told me about the issue when I asked for that brand of floss in my free “bag o’ dental goodies” after my last cleaning, and she said she didn’t have any because they couldn’t get any, and that was because they stopped making it.

      1. I haven’t been able to find it in Canadian drugstores for several years; I’ve been getting my supply from Amazon. I’d better stock up. (Yikes, the prices on Amazon are crazy!) But why would they discontinue such a great product?

    2. Another big thanks if that is indeed true—I’ve tried dozens of flosses for my tight contacts and multiple crowns, and this one is by far the best. And after surviving typical (oral Strep species) endocarditis, I’m religious about flossing, if nothing else.

  1. That’s quite an eclectic list!

    Regarding the case of a woman telling you about a problem and wanting someone to listen, rather than to provide advice… . I concur with that observation—at least with regard to my wife—and ask this question: Does she want the problem to go away or does she want to keep the problem alive so that she can have other people listen empathetically in the future?

    1. She wants to solve the problem herself. She’s using you as a sounding board.

      One of the most useful paradigms I learned in my training as a shrink is that there are two levels of messages in every communication. The transactional level is the obvious one, the content of the conversation. The underlying level contains a message about the listener’s opinion of the speaker. Jumping in to “solve” someone else’s problem contains the hidden message that the listener thinks the speaker is too stupid to figure out a solution by herself/himself. It’s doubly loaded when the speaker is female and the listener is male.

      The corollary is that being a good listener, asking questions, reflecting feelings, and asking what possible solutions the speaker sees all show respect for the speaker’s ability to figure things out.

      There is another big reason why jumping in with solutions is not a good idea. Suppose you offer a solution to a problem, the speaker tries the solution you suggest, and it backfires badly. The result then becomes YOUR fault.

      If someone asks outright for your opinion, give it, and OWN it. Otherwise, as one of my clinical supervisor’s so wisely said, remember that you’re there to hold the flashlight, not to chop the weeds.

      The one real exception I found to that formulation was in my work with head injuries. In that case, there are really specific procedures that a patient needs to follow to retrain undamaged areas of the brain to assume functions of damaged areas. But in that case, the patient usually understands the reasoning, especially if you take the time to explain it carefully, avoiding the damage in the process.


      1. Of course you’re right, Linda. I was kidding about women wanting to keep the problem intact so as to allow further conversation. I know that in practice they don’t really want the problem to fester.

        Yes indeed. If I make a mistake, it *does* become my fault!

        For complex problems I completely understand, but I’ve I also observed the same for simple problems, such as opening a can of olives. Rather than simply ask me to solve the problem, my wife will try all kinds of methods to open the jar before, giving up, she asks me to open it. She wants to solve the problem herself. 🙂

        Thank you for responding to my comment.

        1. I don’t know how old you and your wife are, but re: the can of olives, I have found that I have lost a lot of strength as I’ve aged. It is VERY frustrating, especially at the restaurant, where, when I’m making something that involves unpackaging various ingredients, I have to keep asking my younger colleagues to open stuff for me. Of course, they are very patient, since they know that they will get to have the resulting product, but it makes me want to scream.

          It’s even worse in the barn, where I can no longer lift a fifty-pound sack of feed or a thirty pound can of milk.

          Oh well, as I tell them, I’m still here.


          1. I’m 65 and my wife is 68. She can still haul 50 lbs. of garden soil (with difficulty) but her hands are weakened by age and arthritis—hence the olives problem. But as you say, “we’re still here.”

      1. LOL! Brilliant and hilarious. …….

        But, but, but, maybe if she just, well, maybe she might consider the possibility of, well, I’m sorry to even suggest this, there seems to be a small problem of the na*l. Sorry for bringing it up. Sorry….

        In all seriousness, Linda’s comments are right on.

      1. I agree with Chetiya, that some people ARE proud of being jerks.

        If you’re not that way, you tend to think of mean behavior as dysfunctional. But many people enjoy their meanness. Think of the whole “owning the libs” thing that is extensively practiced by the right wing MAGAs and their friends. Can you imagine being the kind of person who takes joy in hurting people you don’t like, and seeing that as a great form of entertainment? I can’t, but there are plenty of people who can.

        It’s a problem that I see with your belief that once people see that there is no free will, their attitude toward punishment will change. I think that if you can convince them, you might be successful, but I also think that you will have a particularly hard time convincing those who enjoy their cruelty. They are going to fight to hang onto that drug because they get so much pleasure from it. Just this week, Trump was saying that he will be their RETRIBUTION. Wow. Imagine being the kind of person who would find that to be positive!

        Thanks again for your pix and narrative of Dobrzyn.


      2. But how can they live with themselves if they really think they’re jerks?

        Don’t know. But they call themselves jerks and they live.

        Wouldn’t they want to change their jerky behavior?

        No idea what they want. But the chap I have in mind has not changed. I don’t mind.

        There are various labels that we attach to people for their behaviour. An example is ‘douche’, a word I’ve seen among the comments here, used to describe a person whose behaviour the commenter finds contemptible. Given that the person actually behaved in a certain way, which is an empirical reality, whether she (or he) qualifies as a ‘douche’ is a subjective matter. The same behaviour that makes a person a douche to some can be admirable to others. I enjoy watching people get annoyed over things like this.

        I don’t get to change how other people use words. I don’t even like to. This means that people can use derogatory words to describe, for example, my behaviour. To argue against the use of the word is fraught with issues of definition. Often, there is no common premise from which to construct an argument. Such exchanges reduce to, ‘You’re a douche. No, I am not. Yes you are. No, I’m not. You are. Am not. You are. Am not.’

        Wholesome stuff.

        However, one can ask the person to define the word and try to look for inconsistencies in the way he uses it. But let’s consider consistent use. Also assume for the moment that the people concerned have a complete set of accurate information.

        If my behaviour were so described, I shall ask myself if I really want to behave this way. If I do, then I might continue. By implication, I shall continue being a douche. If it is behaviour of which I am proud, I shall be proudly a douche. Or a jerk. It depends on what I’ve been called.

        There are times when I have been described as rude, very rude. As far as I can remember, I have not regretted my behaviour. Quite the opposite. So when a close friend of mine describes me as a rude person, I don’t argue. The implication being that I do not regret being rude. To be more precise, I don’t regret fitting his criteria of rudeness. But that is a detail.

        There are other characterizations. I’ve heard Americans describe Europeans as ‘weak’. The same behavior is described by Europeans as ‘civilized’. Applies to other peoples too.

        You can do what you like and be what you want to be. A consequence is that people might label you, some because they genuinely believe and others because they want to malign you. When confronted with this situation, some people don’t change. They take pride in being called a jerk for being the way they want to be.

        Such words, while useful as insults, carry little substance.


          1. I think Chetiya means that you can do and be what you want, not in the sense of achieving some external goal which may be beyond your abilities, but in the sense of being comfortable with what your personality and character are. Note I don’t say one can choose to change one’s character as that would imply free will. I agree with him that to be called a douche is merely to be the recipient of an insult that has no objective definition and should not be regarded as a substantive judgment obligating contrition or regret.

            I’ve seen this elsewhere described as not giving uptake to those words.

          2. Can I be President of the United States? I don’t think so.

            Don’t know. Don’t care. You might stand a chance, but that’s not what I meant. I was talking about accepting yourself for what you are.

            It is unlikely you would be able to bowl like Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee, even though I’m sure you dearly want to.

            You may not be able to deliver the State of the Union but you can write on your website and express your opinions. You have that freedom. But people read what you write and form their opinions of you. They label you.

            1) Suppose you are called a transphobe (not sure if that’s a word) for your ideas. (Don’t know if you are called that.)

            2) Suppose further that the people who call you that have complete and accurate information about what you wrote and whatever else that is relevant. (To prevent further misunderstanding, I don’t mean how many times you brush your teeth and when. Whatever that is relevant.)

            3) Suppose that you are proud of your work.

            4) Suppose also that they are being sincere and not just trying to ruin you.

            Then you be proud of your work, and be called a transphobe. That is, you can be a transphobe in some people’s eyes. Your arguing against it would hang on the definition of the term. This is the problem with putting one’s constructions on other people’s behaviour.

  2. Driving skill / habit defies Sturgeon’s Law. Rather than 90% of drivers driving like crap the percentage actually asymptotically approaches 100.

  3. Great advice/rules!
    Here’s one from Billy Connolly:
    “Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn’t try it on.”

    1. And one from Henry Fonda in “Once Upon a Time in the West”: How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders?

    2. Three good ones from Billy for when you turn sixty:
      1. Never turn down the chance to have a pee.
      2. Never trust a fart.
      3. If you get an erection, use it. Even if you’re alone.

  4. A footnote t the last rule. “I am humbled…” means the same thing as “I am honored,” even though it appears to mean the opposite.

  5. Coyne’s First Law: Everyone thinks that they have a good sense of humor. (Observation: Some people have no sense of humor. …)

    That reminds me of the humorless FBI agent played by Tom Hank’s in Mr. Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can:

  6. Re product shrinkage: I’ve recently noticed that the 6 oz size of cat food cans has for quite some time gone to 5.5 oz. While the smaller size has stayed at 3 oz.

  7. One of my own rules is always take a favor owed over money. (For example, when I covered a court hearing for an out-of-town lawyer who offered to compensate me for my time.)

  8. From my masculine side, three nights of temazepam works for a seven hour time differential.
    From my feminine side, “oh dear, what a pity, never mind” – which really needs to be uttered by Windsor Davies (that reference put me in a time and place!)
    Good luck, jet lag is a bitch, and coupled to insomnia sounds painful.

  9. Three rules, none of which are mine, but which I try to live by.

    1) From Chuck Jones (of Loony Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon fame): “Take your work seriously, but not yourself”.
    2) Originally a motto for clowns, but modified to be more universal: “Never stand so tall that you can’t stoop to look into the eyes of a small child”.
    3) From a fortune cookie: “There is no wisdom greater than kindness”.

  10. Cole’s Law: finely shredded raw cabbage. # 1 — Sometimes the groaner just has to be expressed.
    A bit more depressingly, I recall making a mental note in high school that # 2 — Both clutter and chatter not only sound similar, they have very similar ways of spreading to distressing proportions if left unchecked. I avoid them as I would a fire.

  11. LIke so many of your readers, I have several Laws of Life. One I always told my teenagers is that trouble always starts out as fun.

    1. My grandmother told me that nothing good ever happens to anyone out after midnight.

      My grandfather told me that women are like streetcars — there’re fewer of them around after midnight, but they run a lot faster. 🙂

      1. My father, who was a dear, dear, man, was nevertheless a product of his time, so he told me after an early relationship of mine ended, “Women are like streetcars: as soon as you hop off of one, another one comes along.” Ouch. My mom exclaimed his name disapprovingly.

      1. Sub

        This reminded me of this line from Tom Waits’ “9th & Hennepin”:

        And no one brings anything
        Small into a bar around here.
        They all started out with bad directions

  12. Many flosses/tapes can also be used combined with toothpaste for increased effects of both, in my lived experience (IMLE) and undocumented conversations with dentist (UCwDs).

    … I am wondering if there is a Coyne’s Zeroth Law – akin to the lately named Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics by Ralph H. Fowler :

    cited in Y. Cengel, M. Boles, Thermodynamics – An Engineering Approach 5th ed.

    … not that I knew any of that ’til I looked it up just now.

    1. The standard practice is to use toothpaste first, then floss.

      Are you suggesting coating the floss in toothpaste?

  13. Lambert’s Law:

    There is always a very convenient parking space available.

    The corollary to Lambert’s Law is that any doubt expressed about Lambert’s Law on the way to the venue negates Lambert’s Law.

  14. A philosophy I wish more people would live by: If it doesn’t hurt another person, an animal, or the environment, then it’s nobody’s business.

    1. Not sure if these are laws, but:
      1) The more someone tells you what straight-shooter/honest person he is, the more likely he’s just an a-hole.
      2) Whenever a Christian says “I’ll pray for you” what he means is “____ you. Go away”.

  15. After suffering from insomnia for 30 years and having tried EVERYTHING, I started to listen to non fiction books on tape on my iPhone, and after 10-20 minutes I am asleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I repeat the process.

  16. My wife is definitely the exception to the rule. She is a problem solver, and it’s impossible to vent about something without her coming up with a bunch of action items! Honey, sometimes I just want to gripe and have someone to say “Yeah, that sure sucks!”

    Granola bars have been a confection for as long as I can remember (back as far as the late ’70s). They need something to stick all those grains together, and it’s always been some kind of sugary concoction. It was sometime in the ’80s when Quaker came up with “chewy” granola bars that they really jumped the candy bar shark, however.

  17. “If a woman recounts a problem to you, she wants an empathic hearing and, unless she asks for them, does NOT want solutions. Likewise, men faced with a friend’s problem, regardless of whether the friend is male or female, will immediately try to solve it by giving advice. Women, on the other hand, will be empathic and solicitous of your situation.”

    I wonder what the implications might be for the institutional culture of organizations that were once predominately male and now are, or are quickly becoming, predominately female. Surely this could be beneficial. Might there also be downsides depending on an organization’s mission?

  18. Walter’s Law: I you find a product you really like, buy a lifetime supply because the manufacturer will eventually quit making it, change it beyond all recognition, or stop making it available in your area.

  19. Laws:

    In politics, you only have to apologize for saying something if what you said was true.

    In any news article about an earthquake, the word “temblor” must be used exactly once, in the second sentence.

  20. Back when I were a English teacher I used to tell my students: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, no matter how stupid.” This is one reason I no longer are a English teacher. Another reason? Stacks of 5-paragraph essays.

  21. Almost everyone, especially men, thinks they are a better driver than average. Almost nobody thinks they are worse than average.

  22. Perhaps the corollary to the woman/empathy man/solution observation is this “law”:

    Women marry men hoping to change them, and men marry women hoping they’ll never change.

    Boy, this sounds hopelessly outdated, doesn’t it?

    Other “laws”:

    Life is too important to be taken seriously.
    Everything is interesting.
    Cheap red wine is better than cheap white wine.

  23. The closest thing I have is “Elessar’s Conjecture”, which states that no finite intelligent system can ever fully comprehend itself in all details. I’m bordering on calling it “Elessar’s Theorem”, but I don’t have a page margin in which not to be able to write it.

    It’s neither funny nor useful in everyday life, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

    It’s related to Emerson Pugh’s statement (which I had not heard before making mine) that, if the human brain were simple enough that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t, but mine is more general.

    Oh, I guess I could also say that basic, general behavioral primatology can explain most of the day-to-day behavior of humans, from politics to relationships to social media to entertainment and so on (including your point about “I am honored…”). This is probably obvious, though, and in some ways is tautological, since humans ARE primates, but don’t think of themselves as such very often.

  24. WORDS TO FISH BY. Two that my father, an avid fisherman, passed on to his five sons:

    1. You ‘ll never catch a fish if you don’t have a line in the water.

    2. You might think you have a fish on when you don’t, but you’ll never think you don’t have a fish on when you do.

  25. Two great quotes:
    1. Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.
    2. Kindness is a word the blind can see and the deaf can hear.

  26. Michael’s Rules of Driving:
    1. If you are in the left/passing lane with no one in front of you, and lots of people behind you, move over…
    2. If you driving in the carpool/HOV lane, but aren’t driving faster than the lane beside you, why are you in the carpool lane?? Move over…see Rule #1
    3. There is a time and place for courtesy. Stopping to let someone go is nice, but failure to take the right of way when you should can cause accidents. ie. You aren’t doing what other drivers expect you to do.
    4. Use your horn when needed. Bad drivers won’t learn if they aren’t made aware of the mistakes they make.
    5. It is more important to be safe than right. Always consider the big picture. ie. Will doing X result in a net positive benefit or not?

    1. 5 contradicts 4. Bad drivers rarely change their ways just because you educated them with your horn. That’s asking for road rage. If you see an inattentive driver drifting across the lane marking into your path, concentrate on evasive action instead of fumbling for the horn button, and stay out of blind spots in the first place.
      The corollary for cyclists is, “Ignore all horns (assuming you are obeying traffic laws). The honking driver has seen you.”

      1. I agree with you. When I drive I figure that every other driver has a gun within reach and won’t hesitate to use it if I piss them off. If a driver does something that offends me, I try to remember the moron out in Colorado a few years back who followed a mother and her kids to a parking lot and killed one of her sons. I strive for anonymity in my car and drive with the attention to safety that a pilot employs when flying. Let the idiots have the road.

    2. Also, studies have shown (no, really!) that “Jersey merging,” much hated, is *actually* the most efficient way to keep traffic moving.

      In other words, when using a merge lane, proceed as far as you can before attempting to merge. This pisses some people off, who think you’re getting away with something, and some people feel the need to be “cool” and start merging way, way too soon.

      But in fact, traffic engineers say, Jersey merging is best!

      1. We call it merge in turn in the UK or zipper merging. If the traffic is queuing, it is the right thing to do because merging too early moves the back of the queue backwards and makes it more likely to impinge on another junction.

        However, if the traffic is flowing, the right thing to do is to merge safely when an opportunity arises.

      2. To work well, Jersey merge must be combined with zipper merge (drivers politely taking turns to merge).

    3. In the UK, the horn is supposed to be used only to warn people of your presence, or a hazard, not to admonish them. Of course, a lot of British drivers don’t seem to know that.

  27. My own Law of Intervention – any intervention, whether an action or advice, will benefit a quarter of the people who receive it, may be partially appreciated by about half the people, and completely fail for the remaining quarter.

    Plus practical advice – never lean over a toilet with a mobile phone in your shirt pocket.

  28. I was horrified to hear that the dental floss is no longer made! I will buy more, but there is no way I’ll have a lifetime supply if I’m like my mom and live to be 99 and still have all my teeth. BTW, the other brands do not work for me at all. Let me know if you find a replacement.

    1. I like Glide, coated with teflon and flat, not round. Works pretty well for me, though I haven’t tried the brand Jerry mentions.

    Coyne’s First Law: Everyone thinks that they have a good sense of humor. (Observation: Some people have no sense of humor. Conclusion: Many people are fooling themselves.)

    I laughed at this. No idea what it says about me…

    Coyne’s Second Law: Everyone thinks that they’re a “little bit nuts”, but always in a nice way. That is, everyone thinks they have some amusing eccentricities. (Observation: While this belief is nearly ubiquitous, some people are nuts but not in a nice way.) A theatre director once said to my dad, in a very matter of fact way, “But of course you’re an oddball, so….”. Dad was baffled and offended – the rest of us not so much! [This is the man who made a habit of answering the phone by saying “Cuxton Madhouse, Napoleon speaking” (Cuxton was the name of our small village). At the time, most callers were friends of my teenage self or my sister arranging to meet up. He came a cropper when it turned out to be an important work call for my mum…]

  30. Surely thinking only serves to keep one awake? I never used toget it but do nowsometimes, & sleep better in the cold & with fresh air, so window open all winter in the bedroom.

    All the taps on showers & sinks & baths are surely mixers ?

    I am not funny, I am a jerk, & I only undo the top buttons – always keep shirts buttoned & pull them on like a jumper.

  31. So sorry about the insomnia!

    My adult daughter and I try to be very clear; we’ll ask each other, “Are you asking for sympathy or are you asking for solutions?”

  32. As far as I know, Costco still sells their vanilla ice cream in two half gallon containers, packaged together. It’s good ice cream, too!

Leave a Reply