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Nellie McKay's 'Pretty Little Head' | A Question From Vietnam About Murphy's Law | A Visit to the National Museum of the Marine Corps

Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We answer a question about a popular American expression …

Play some music from Nellie McKay ...

And report about a new museum near Washington, D.C.

Marine Museum

Last month, a new museum opened in Triangle, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. The National Museum of the Marine Corps was built to keep and protect the material history of the United States Marines. Barbara Klein takes us for a visit.


The National Museum of the Marine Corps is divided into eight areas. The first is an open place just inside the entrance. In the center is a sixty-four meter long structure that rises to reach a glass roof.

Hanging from the roof are airplanes used by Marines in conflicts around the world.

These include Corsair fighter planes from World War Two and the Korean War. They also include a Curtiss “Jenny” plane from wars in Central America in the nineteen twenties.

A landing vehicle used in World War Two and a Sikorsky helicopter from the Korean War are also in this area.

Other areas of the museum show the Marine experience through pictures, paintings and models of Marines in historic situations. The World War Two area shows how Marines fought and died in the Pacific campaign against Japanese forces.

The Marine war experience is also seen in areas about World War One, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam and the Global War on Terrorism. In the Vietnam War area, visitors experience the Battle of Khe Sanh.

On the second floor, visitors can eat in a place that looks like the historic Tun Tavern where the Corps was founded in seventeen seventy-five. Or they can eat in a cafeteria that looks like a mess hall where Marines eat today.

The second floor also holds temporary exhibits. One of these is about the Marine Band, the oldest professional music group in the United States. The exhibit tells the history of the band and its famous leader, John Philip Sousa.

We leave our visit to the National Museum of the Marine Corps with music written by Sousa for the Marines. It is called “Semper Fidelis.” That is the Marine Corps official saying. It is Latin for “Always Faithful.”

Murphy's Law


Our VOA Listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Quang Khoi asks about Murphy’s Law.

Murphy’s Law is an American expression whose meaning spread around the world. Murphy’s Law says: "Everything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong." Like many other popular sayings, it is difficult to find one explanation for it.

Those trying to explain Murphy’s Law agree that it began in the United States Air Force. The Air Force says the expression was named for officer Edward Murphy. He was an engineer working on a project in space flight research in nineteen forty-nine.

One story says Captain Murphy was commenting about the failure of some equipment he was using in an experiment. He reportedly criticized the worker responsible by saying: “If there is a way to do it wrong, he will find it." Another official heard this and called it Murphy’s Law.

Another story is found in a book called “A History of Murphy’s Law” by Nick Spark. It says members of the research team working with Captain Murphy created a similar phrase: “If it can happen, it will happen”. They called this Murphy’s Law. But Mister Spark later said there is no way to really know who invented the expression.

Still, many stories say the first use of the term Murphy’s Law was at a press conference several weeks later. John Paul Stapp was an Air Force captain at the time. He spoke to reporters about the tests completed by Captain Murphy and his team. Doctor Stapp said no one was injured during the tests because the Air Force considered "Murphy’s Law" before carrying out their experiments.

He said this meant that they considered everything that could go wrong before a test and planned how to prevent those mistakes from happening.

Today, you can find examples of Murphy's Law in everyday life. You might say that if you drop a slice of buttered bread on the floor, it will always land with the buttered side down. Or, the day you forget to bring your umbrella, it is sure to rain.

Nellie McKay

Nellie McKay is a young singer and songwriter who works hard to protect her artistic independence. Her new album, “Pretty Little Head,” has twenty-three creative and unusual songs. Critics are praising McKay’s musical skill and ability to sing many kinds of music. Katharine Cole has more.



That is the energetic song “Columbia is Bleeding." It is a protest song expressing Nellie McKay’s interest in animal rights. McKay opposes the way animals have been treated in experiments at Columbia University in New York City.

But not all the songs on “Pretty Little Head” are political. The album has songs with many different styles and meanings. Some are serious while others are playful and funny. Here is “We Had it Right.” Nellie McKay sings with the well-known musician K.D. Lang.


Nellie McKay made her first album with the major company Columbia Records. But she had her own ideas about her second album. She wanted “Pretty Little Head” to have twenty-three songs on two compact disks. Columbia Records wanted her to make a shorter album. So, McKay left Columbia Records and started her own record company, Hungry Mouse Records. She can now make her own decisions about her music.

We leave you with the playful beat of “Pink Chandelier”. Nellie McKay sings in a gentle voice about dancing and strangers in the night.



I'm Doug Johnson.

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This program was written by Dana Demange and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was the producer. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.