Quotes Uncovered: Death and Taxes

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research.

Ewout asked:

Who was the first to say these famous words: “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” Some sources mention Ben Franklin, others say Mark Twain or Daniel Defoe. Thanks!

This is usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in a 1789 letter that “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, The Yale Book of Quotations quotes “‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,” from Christopher Bullock, The Cobler of Preston (1716). The YBQ also quotes “Death and Taxes, they are certain,” from Edward Ward, The Dancing Devils (1724).

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

Ben Ramsey

Where does the quote "A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero but only one" come from?

Sam Adams

sounds like Tennyson to me, we'll see how the expert responds...

Don Rodriguez

"Death and Taxes", or, in other words, "Freud and Marx".


"The only two certainties in life are Freud and Marx."

Leland G

The internets seem to attribute the following quote to Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

But I can't find ANY specific citation for it - not from Einstein's writings or a lecture/appearance, etc. It seems to have appeared out of thin air sometime in the late 90s. Any idea whence it comes?

Joshua Northey

What is with the strange fixation with written citations? I realize that allows you to have a point of reference, which is nice, but isn't it clear from the historical record that a huge number of these famous quips were already circulating before pen was put to paper?


Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 2: "Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once."


Was "Statistics are like ladies of the night...Once laid out you can do anything with them." really Mark Twain?

Eric M. Jones

@4- Leland G

I'll bet Albert Einstein never said such a thing. Furthermore until the year 2000 (and beyond) Google Books says he never said it either.

Marcus Bruté

How about "the _____ from Hell" (e.g. "the mother-in-law from Hell")? Was Richard Lewis really the first to use the expression?

John Torrey

A review of a movie or play: "When it wasn't putting me to sleep it was keeping me awake."

Cañada Kid

"Home is where the heart is."

I've not put much research into this one, but ever since you located my quote's origin (If at first you don't succeed...) I have been hearing this one bounce around, from books and novels to friends and family members. Thanks!


I agree with the quote "Nothing is certain except for death and taxes." Everyone one dies, but not everyone lives. No matter what, you will always have to pay taxes. There will never be a time where this won't occur.

Eric M. Jones

@11- Cañada Kid: "Home is where the heart is" seems to have arisen almost spontaneously in 1847. But my guess is it could be found as latin engraved on some Roman doorway or such. It would be easy to believe that this kind of motto is a translation from Latin or Spanish or Yiddish. One also has to wonder about the hearth-heart similarity.

Duncan Miller

"Let's blow this popsicle stand"

I had heard something about it pertaining to a Jamaican man in the 40s storing radioactive material in a popsicle stand that later exploded, though I have doubts about this source's credibility.


I propose that we add "shipping & handling" to the list of life's inevitabilities in our modern age.

Adams Volker

"American Dream is the largest Ponzi scheme in human history"


Any idea who coined "He who swims against the current finds the source?"


Is this really Albert Einstein? He supposedly was quoted in the NYT saying, "If I had my life to live over again, I would elect to be a trader of goods rather than a student of science. I think barter is a noble thing."

G Wolf

Who are Christopher Bullock and Edward Ward? I can't seem to find any info about either of them.

Brian S

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."