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Language Arts

Death and Taxes

Variations of the idiom - Nothing is certain but death and taxes - is spoken by people throughout the world. However is not known where the famous phrase originally came from. Throughout history, several historical figures have famously quoted these words in various books and writings.

The phrase we most commonly use today, "nothing is certain but death and taxes" was originally said by Benjamin Franklin in 1789. This was just one of the clever witty phrases coined by the famous historical figure known for his work in science, politics and writing, according to

The actual phrase is derived from a letter written by Franklin to French Physicist Jean Baptiste Leroy regarding a conversation about the creation of the Constitution of the United States of America, which Franklin played a vital role. Franklin had developed a friendship with Leroy from his years working as an ambassador. This letter was written during the French revolution and Franklin feared his friend had been killed during the country's political unrest. Franklin is noted as writing, "Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."  

While the "death and taxes" quote was Franklin's, the concept of finality represented in ideas like death and taxes is an old one. However, Franklin's use of the phrase is by far the more widely known. Prior to Franklin's use of the idiom, the idea originally was also expressed in a similar phrase written by by Daniel Defoe in his 1726 publication of The Political history of the Devil.  He wrote: "Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed."
A similar death and taxes meaning is found again in the well-known 1936 literary piece Gone With the Wind, with character Margaret Mitchell's line: "Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them."
This popular idiom "nothing is certain but death and taxes" represents a very fatalist and grim view on life and aspects of life, according to The Phrase Finder. The saying "death and taxes" focuses on the concept of inevitability in this life, meaning death and the fact that one can rarely successful avoid the burden of paying taxes.
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