MEANING: noun: The idea that as a debate progresses, it becomes inevitable that someone would compare another to Hitler or the Nazis.

ETYMOLOGY: Coined by Mike Godwin (b. 1956). Earliest documented use: 1991.

NOTES: Lawyers don’t make laws, but a lawyer once did make a “law”. Back when people lived in caves, they used something called the Usenet to engage in discussions with people around the world. These discussions involved passionate arguments and debates on humanity’s deep yearnings and moral dilemmas. Is it pronounced gif or jif? Is Mac better or PC? Does it take one space or two after a period? The Who vs. Led Zeppelin. vi vs. emacs?

A lawyer named Mike Godwin coined an adage that stated: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Since then Godwin’s law has served as a useful reminder that whenever a comparison to Hitler or Nazis is made, the discussion is over and the one making such a comparison loses.

There is, however, an exception. When actual Nazis (or as our president calls them, “very fine people”) are involved in a discussion, invoking Godwin’s law doesn’t mean anything. Godwin himself has stated that many times.

GOODWIN'S LAW - Discussion of business is not allowed at the dinner table! (or was that Nero Wolfe's Law?)

GODWIN'S LAWN - mixed fescues, no doubt

GOD, WINSLOW - That, Mr Homer, is what's missing from your paintings