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Time for a new cliché

Apr 4, 2013, 05:07 AM
Authors : Daniel
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Post date : Apr 4, 2013, 05:54 AM

Whenever something is described for its plainness as doing “exactly what it says on the tin”, I fight the compulsion to drown the speaker/writer in a vat of wood stain – which becomes yeast extract when a divisive situation or person is said to be like Marmite.

Then there’s “National treasure”; it dulls my soul’s shine because not every celebrity is worthy of reverence for staying in the media spotlight longer than a mayfly’s belch or for being Stephen bloody Fry.

Young journalists are taught to abhor clichés and avoid them like plague. (Irony, on the other hand, is to be embraced.) But those word formulas are unrelenting buggers and end up infecting the language of editorial copy and everything else. Tax is no exception.

The oldest chestnut, of course, is the one about the certainty of death and taxes. It was 74 years old when Benjamin Franklin nicked it in 1789 from Christopher Bullock’s play The Cobler of Preston, although the masses weren’t yet spouting it in every other debate about government levies.

These days, it’s an omnipresent, boring phrase – and untrue, what with the forthcoming £10,000 personal allowance, myriad aggressive avoidance schemes available to big business and wealthy individuals, and leaps in the advancement of technology for keeping human brains alive in jars of luminous goo.

Okay, not the goo… 

“Tax doesn’t have to be taxing”: there’s a much more recent hackneyed expression, which, like the Ronseal and Marmite dross, began as a marketing exercise.

HMRC wanted to reassure nervous taxpayers about their self assessment returns, but all the department did was create blether to start the columns of lazy finance hacks and be uttered sarcastically by nay-saying dullards who think the TaxPayers’ Alliance is a credible organisation. You know, the sort who might also nod approvingly at oxymoronic guff about tax being “legalised theft”.

I’ll tell you what else tax isn’t: sexy. Sorry, tax nerds. A few lucky people are sexy. (Kelly Brook! Helen Mirren! Lincoln assassination conspirator Lewis Payne!)

A complicated, sometimes contradictory, system of government-imposed levies is not in the least bit erotic. To claim “tax is sexy” is to not only spout a cliché but to also invite uncomfortable questions about your unique lifestyle preferences.

What the tax sector needs is a new slogan; a wee saying we can use until it too becomes a disheartening and increasingly meaningless string of words. (“Man on the Clapham omnibus”, please disembark at the next stop.)

How about “Tax avoidance: grrr!”? It's zeitgeist-y, encapsulating a ubiquitous opinion. But it’s subject-specific, and too Guardian. A more general utterance is required, although I like the ubiquity angle, so…

Tax: it’s all over the place.

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