How did we get from "tax haven" to "tax heaven" to "tax hell"?
June 23, 2013 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone come across good sources on the history and evolution of the term "tax haven"? I am looking for sources detailing at least its first appearance in written or spoken English, and if possible the date in which it was (wrongly) translated into French as "tax heaven" (paradis fiscal).

Hey everyone. I am writing a paper on new metaphors for economic concepts in the press, and came across some interesting new ones for "tax haven" ("tax bunkers", "tax limbos").

It'd be great if I could provide a very brief (two or three paragraphs) but well supported history of the "older" metaphoric expression, "tax haven", and the corresponding terms in other European languages: "tax heaven" and "tax oasis" in German, French, Spanish, Portugese...

Some Internet sources date the appearance of "tax haven" as an expression in English in the 1950s, but these are mostly blogs, newspapers, and not necessarily sources I would feel comfortable citing in a scientific paper on linguistics.

A French article claims it has been around since the 1970s, and searching for keywords in a Spanish reference corpus gives me 1980 as the first occurrences. I can't find any linguistic work done on this on the Spanish language.

I am fairly new to historical linguistics, and I've never worked with English, German or French philological tools. My knowledge of Economics is also pretty basic, though it's improving. Are there language/history of economics geeks out there who can point me in the right direction?

Thank you!
posted by ipsative to Writing & Language (6 answers total)
(wrongly) translated into French as "tax heaven"

Beg to differ. The expression 'tax haven' was not (wrongly) translated, the term was rendered into French. That French phrase paradis fiscal accurately describes its attractiveness... often in some sun-drenched, tropical island surrounded by azure waters. One is reminded of Graham Greene's quip about Monaco: "A sunny place for shady people."

Can't help you otherwise. Sorry. Wish you good luck on your quest.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:39 AM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's an AP article from 1923 that used the term.
posted by Knappster at 9:08 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Paradis fiscal... here's the earliest I can find:

"Enfin, ces deux procédés peuvent être combinés, par exemple en interposant une société écran située dans un paradis fiscal. — (Cahiers du communisme, n° 7-12, 1945)"

Cahiers du communisme (1944-1999) was the French Communist Party's monthly magazine.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:32 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to check with these folks.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:40 AM on June 24, 2013

Best answer: Digging into Google Books shows that in French the expression "paradis fiscal" was already used at the beginning of the XX century to talk about highly favorable tax policies. It seems that the expression actually predates the "tax haven" concept.
posted by elgilito at 3:09 AM on June 25, 2013

Response by poster: As I could not find a published etymological study on these expressions, I presented the question as "an interesting topic for further research" and moved on. I did mention an informal search made on Google Books which allowed one to speculate, etc. I actually found the oldest occurrence in Spanish books, a magazine in Ecuador. So who knows... but maybe after my dissertation the time will come to delve into this topic.

Given that "heaven" and "haven" are so similar, I find it more plausible to assume it was a mistranslation into French/Spanish/German than a deliberate "rendering".

Thank you for your help, Mr. Bijou, Knappster, Mr.Know-it-some and elgilito!
posted by ipsative at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2013

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