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The Three Certainties in Life

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Three things are certain in life, they say: death, taxes, and people understanding what this trope is about by the time they finish this sentence.

The Three Certainties In Life can either be a Stock Joke or a Stock Phrase that is mostly inspired by the quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, "Nothing is certain but death and taxes."

Because three is a magic number, appending a third item after "death" and "taxes" has the immediate effect of turning one person's observation of a perceived, frequently occurring event or incident into a punchline or poignant quip which shares similarity to The Triple.

Occasionally, someone may list three things without "death" or "taxes" being one of them. In this regard, "birth and death" is a commonly seen variant. Another popular wordswap, attributed to Albert Einstein, is "nothing is infinite but the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not too sure about the universe..."

See also: Rule of Three, The Triple, and The Last of These Is Not Like the Others. Compare: Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking and There Are Two Kinds of People in the World.

Death, Taxes, and Examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • A Garfield strip had a variant: "Death, taxes, and teddy bears. Three things you can always count on."
  • A vintage Sunday Peanuts comic strip where Lucy, holding a football, challenged Charlie Brown to name three things that are certain. Charlie Brown guessed death and taxes but drew a blank at the third...until Lucy pulled the football away. "It was so obvious, Charlie Brown."
  • One Zits strip had the father saying, "The only things certain in life are death and taxes." The teen continues, "And homework." The mom finishes it off by thinking, "And knowing I'll get stuck with the dinner dishes."

  • Common Interests:
    Snape: Studying is a necessary evil.
    Skullduggery: Like death, taxes, and stupid people.
  • Two steps To The Left - A Waltz has several in-narration examples, most of them following this format:
    The sky is blue.
    Grass is green.
    Homura can never save Madoka, not even from herself.
    These three things seem to be cardinal laws, rules of which the very fabric of the universe is built. There can be no give without take, no right without left, no up without down.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) has a variant. Hank notes, "All I'm saying is families are inevitable; they're like death or taxes."
  • From Meet Joe Black, "...the truth is, joining John Bontecou is every bit as certain as death and taxes." This is said to Death himself in the guise of the eponymous Joe Black, who expresses some surprise and amusement at the saying. Later on made into a borderline stealth pun (Call Back? Ironic Echo?) when Joe Black impersonates an IRS agent.

  • Inverted: Al Franken writes in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them about the Republican Party's attempts to abolish the Estate Tax:
    For America's heirs and heiresses, only one thing would be certain: death, OR taxes.
  • Iain M Banks' The Culture series features a ship called Death and Gravity, which is spun off from the "death and taxes" phrase; after the Culture abolished taxes (and money), people say "gravity", instead of "taxes".
  • A book about the Selectividadnote  begins, Cynics say there're two things certain in life: death and taxes. Students know there's a third: Selectividad.
  • In The Atomic Bloodstained Bus, the three certainties are death, taxes and ceiling fans.
  • In Reaper Man, everyone in Sheepridge suspects that Mr. Bill Door is probably a revenuer. When Miss Flitworth tells Bill Door this, his response is NO. NOT TAXES.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Grey's Anatomy, the title character once remarked, "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."
  • Prison Break:
    • In the first season:
      Sucre: There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes and count.
    • Later:
      Agent Mahone: Three things in life are certain... death, taxes, and the fact that a man on the run will make a mistake sometime in the first 72 hours.
  • A character on the Soap Opera Guiding Light once remarked that love isn't "a sure thing," but her grandfather, on the other hand, "is right up there with death and taxes."
  • There's a Running Joke amongst fans of the Eurovision Song Contest that goes, "There are only three things certain in life: Death, Taxes, and Greece and Cyprus exchanging maximum votes." However, with new rules in place for future competitions, this may now be obsolete.
  • A gag on Keeping Up Appearances once compared being invited to one of Hyacinth Buck... err... Bouquet's candlelight suppers to the inevitability of death and taxes.
  • A TV special based on the Miss Peach comic strip had the line, "For adults there's death and taxes, and for us kids there's school."
  • Married... with Children: When Al's touchdown record was about to be broken, he was so sure of it he declared it one of the three things he was certain of happening. The other two were that he'd sell shoes until the day he dies and Peggy would win the lottery the next day.
  • The Science Channel's series Curiosity had one episode as the structure of a future documentary in a society of humans who have used technology to become immortal, in which Adam Savage tells this saying to those who were born in the 31st century, then adds "and it sucked."
  • On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, host John Oliver's introduction to a topic on death began, "Death, it's one of the few things you can't avoid, along with taxes and plugging in a flash drive upside-down on the first try."

  • In "Everybody Poops" by Buster Puppet, the three certainties are listed as death, taxes, and everybody poops.

    Pro Wrestling 

  • The song "For Now" from Avenue Q has a lyric: Except for death and paying taxes everything in life is only for now.

    Video Games 
  • In EA Sports' FIFA 2010, matches involving Chelsea FC may feature small anecdotes, as told by the game's commentators, about the club's history and rise to form as one of England's powerhouse clubs during lull moments in the game. One such anecdote includes Martin Tyler remarking on how Chelsea once used to be the Butt-Monkey of many jokes amongst comedians, including one such joke, "Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and Chelsea keeps building up only to disappoint."
  • In the Might and Magic games, some NPCs state that there are only three certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and that you'll hear the comment about death and taxes sooner or later.
  • If you play Blizzard games three things are certain in life: death, taxes and soon.
  • Yasuo of League of Legends has his own take on this phrase as one of his jokes.
    "There are three certainties in life: Honor, death... and hangovers."

    Web Original 
  • TV Tropes describes shipping as one of the fundamental forces of nature, along with Death and Taxes.
  • In Epic Rap Battles of History "Ben Franklin vs. Billy Mays", Franklin asserts that his victory is more certain than death or taxes.
  • MatPat, creator of Game Theory, made a post on Twitter saying that the three certainties of life are "Death, Taxes, and the ice cream machine at McDonald's being broken whenever you want a cone."
  • In The Nostalgia Critic's review of Blues Brothers 2000, the Critic says "Here's the only thing certain after death, taxes, and everything you love either getting a shitty sequel or a shitty remake: commercials!" before going to a commercial break.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons
    • In the episode "Sideshow Bob Roberts," Birch Barlow declares:
      Birch Barlow: You know, there are three things we're never going to get rid of here in Springfield: one, the bats in the public library...
      [scene switch to man opening card catalog and screaming as bats fly out]
      Birch Barlow: ... two, Mrs. McFierly's compost heap...
      [scene switch to huge compost pile and Mrs. McFierly rocking nearby with a shotgun, cackling]
      Birch Barlow: ... and three, our six-term mayor, [scene switch to Quimby watering a marijuana plant] the illiterate, tax-cheating, wife-swapping, pot-smoking, spendocrat Diamond Joe Quimby.
      Mayor Quimby: Hey! I am no longer illiterate!
    • The intro billboard for "Chief of Hearts" is a picture of Mr. Burns with the text "DEATH AND TAXES: TWO THINGS I AVOID".

  • From a collection of haiku computer error messages:
    Three things are certain:
    taxes, death, and lost data.
    Guess which has occurred?

    Real Life 
  • In Brazil, there's a saying: there are three things that you do just once in life: you are born, you die and "insert X here".
  • One proverb of anonymous origin observes, "Only three things in life are certain: birth, death, and change."
  • Another of unknown origin argues, "There are only three certainties in life; The laws of physics, the laws of Murphy, and death."
  • Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, once remarked,
    "Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes and the second law of thermodynamics. All three are processes in which useful or accessible forms of some quantity, such as energy or money, are transformed into useless, inaccessible forms of the same quantity. That is not to say that these three processes don't have fringe benefits: taxes pay for roads and schools; the second law of thermodynamics drives cars, computers and metabolism; and death, at the very least, opens up tenured faculty positions."
  • Charles II is alleged to have said, "There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and that it is raining in Tavistock."
  • An old adage among comic book fans is, "There are only three people who stay dead in Comics: Ben Parker, Jason Todd, and Bucky Barnes." The fact that two out of three have come back to life should tell you all you need to know about death in comics.
  • According to an old saying (which eschews The Last of These Is Not Like the Others format, and yet is clearly related to this trope), a Proper Lady's name only appears in the newspaper on three occasions: when she is born, when she gets married, and when she dies.

There are three certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and TV Tropes Ruining Your Life.

Alternative Title(s): Death Taxes And X