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Of death and taxes


You may believe that it was Benjamin Franklin who coined the expression that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Although he was certainly an all-round vrai bon oeuf, and the sort of bloke from history whom it would be a pleasure to meet, he came a distant second with the phrase.

Daniel Defoe originated it in 1726, in The Political History of the Devil: “Not the Man in the Moon, not the Inspiration of Mother Shipton, or the Miracles of Dr. Faustus, Things as certain as Death and Taxes, can be more firmly believed.” Ben Franklin tweaked and recycled it into a letter of 1789 to Jean-Baptiste Leroy: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Margaret Mitchell took another tilt at it in 1936, in Gone with the Wind: “Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”

Which leads us on to today’s example of things which could be slightly better expressed. This ad, from an American financial advisor, seems unusually and insensitively blunt:

Rita Rudner is an American comedian who had a brief flurry of fame in the UK in the days when God was a boy (or girl). She now performs almost exclusively in Las Vegas. She has a very deadpan delivery, as you’ll see if you take a cruise through Youtube, which just makes her all the funnier. This joke of hers from years ago seems appropriate to recycle here:

I hate those men on the street who stop you and say, ‘Have you got any spare change?’ I reply, ‘I have no way of knowing. I have not finished living my life yet”.


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