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A.Word.A.Day--publican

Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

Ben Franklin once said, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." And the same goes for this week's words: nothing is certain but death and taxes, or at least a discussion of them. Don't worry, nobody dies and no one has to pay a tax to learn these words. Each of the words this week has something to do with either death or taxes.

Over the ages, the world's rulers have imposed all imaginable kinds of taxes on the populace. Taxes were once based on the number of hearths in a house (fumage), and there have been taxes to pay off raiding Danes (Danegeld).

In late seventeenth century, William III of UK imposed a window tax, levied on each window in a house. Three hundred years later, William III of US imposed a Windows tax, levied on each personal computer manufactured, whether it had Windows or not, but I digress.

Death too comes in unexpected places. When we buy a house and sign a mortgage, let's keep in mind that the word derives from Old French mort (death) + gage (pledge).

In the US, April 15 is the deadline for filing tax return for the previous year. At one time the consequences of failure to pay taxes were severe but thankfully, today, the "dead"line is only metaphorical.

This week in AWAD we'll look at more words related to those two things few of us want to encounter.

publican (PUB-li-kuhn) noun

1. A tax collector.

2. An owner or manager of a pub or hotel.

[From Latin publicanus, from publicum (public revenue), from publicus (public), from populus (people).]

In ancient Rome, the state farmed out the collection of taxes. The right to collect tax was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Tax collection agents, known as publicans, employed lower-level collectors who made good use of their license. For their severe methods of extraction of taxes, publicans were widely despised. Now, if a publican is a tax collector, what is a republican?

See more usage examples of publican in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

-Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)

"'Haven't you robbed people enough -- taking their last shirts?' said a voice addressing the publican." Leo Tolstoy; War and Peace; 1865-1869.

X-Bonus

The firmest fayth is found in fewest woordes. -Edward Dyer, courtier and poet (c. 1540-1607)

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