January 17, 2017

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” (Or, as Franklin actually said: “Il n’y a rien d’assure que la mort et les impôts.”


“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) 
       American “founding father,” publisher, diplomat and scientist 
       This is the usual English translation of a comment Franklin made
in a letter he wrote to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy, dated November 13, 1789.
       Franklin wrote his letter to Leroy in French. His “death and taxes” remark was related to the Constitution of the United States of America, which had been adopted two years earlier. What he actually wrote was:
       “Notre constitution nouvelle est actuellement établie, tout paraît nous promettre qu’elle sera durable; mais, dans ce monde, il n’y a rien d’assure que la mort et les impôts.”
       The common English translation of this sentence is: “Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”  (Sometimes the last part is translated as “
Nothing is certain but death and taxes.”)
       As noted by the invaluable
Phrase Finder site and other reference sources, similar quotations about death and taxes pre-date Franklin’s letter. But the English translation of Franklin’s version is certainly the most famous. (For more background see this post on my ThisDayinQuotes.com blog.)

Donald Trump cartoon from usnewscom


“With Donald Trump as President almost nothing is certain except uncertainty itself.”
       David C. Kibbe
       President and CEO of the non-profit healthcare information technology organization DirectTrust 
       A remark quoted in a January 9, 2017 press release discussing health industry IT trends that seems applicable to more than health industry IT trends.
       (Cartoon by Dan Wasserman.)


“The difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
       Attrib. to
Will Rogers (1879-1935)
       American humorist
       A quip
widely attributed to Rogers, but without any specific source
       There’s no contemporary record of Rogers uttering or writing this old joke. However,
quote maven Barry Popik has noted that a similar line was used by another humorist Rogers had a connection with, the witty newspaper columnist Robert Quillen (1887-1948).
       In several of the humorous columns Quillen wrote in the early 1930s, he said the “difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time the legislature meets.” In a 1934 column, Quillen added Congress, saying: “The main difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get any worse every time congress or the state legislature meets.” That same year, movie producer George Marshall and screenwriter Lamar Trotti visited Quillen and purportedly used him as the model for the newspaper editor Will Rogers played in the film Life Begins at Forty. The film’s credits credit Quillen for “contributing dialogue.” My guess is that, if Rogers ever did use the line about Congress, he may have borrowed it from Quillen.


“Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them!”
Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
       American novelist, journalist and philanthropist  
       This is what the character
Scarlett O’Hara says about the “untimeliness” of her pregnancy, in Chapter 38 of Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind
       The line was not used in the classic 1939 movie adaptation, in which actress Vivien Leigh played Scarlet. But if it had been, I imagine her adding one of her favorite sayings: “Fiddle-dee-dee!”


“In life only one thing is certain, besides death and taxes...No matter how hard we try, No matter how good our intentions, we are going to make mistakes.”
Dr. Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo)
       In the
“Heart of the Matter” episode of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy (Season 4, Episode 4, first aired Oct. 18, 2007)


“Ben Franklin was wrong. There is more certainty in life than just death and taxes. There is also the very reliable need for ‘just one more’ piece of golf equipment.”
Dorothy Langley
       American author and golfer
In her book A View from the Red Tees: The Truth About Women and Golf (1997)


“To the typical American on the eve of the twentieth century it appeared a unique country, a land of promise where one person's gain was another person’s opportunity, and the inevitable was not just death and taxes but improvement and growth.”
Richard M. Abrams
       Historian and Professor Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley
       An observation
in his book The Burdens of Progress, 1900-1929 (1978)


“Besides death and  taxes, this too is certain: The American economy will never return to its  maximum prosperity until it completes a very broad-based tax reform.” 
Glenn Hubbard and Peter Navarro
In their book Seeds of Destruction: Why the Path to Economic Ruin Runs Through Washington, and How to Reclaim American Prosperity (2010)

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