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Accounting trivia: 12 fascinating facts you (probably) never knew

accounting trivia
By Nicholas Edwards. Last Updated September 18, 2023

As a critical business process, accounting isn’t usually associated with the words “fun” or “interesting.” In this article, we aim to change that once and for all. 

Instead of talking about accounting principles or how to treat an intangible asset on your balance sheet, we’re going to offer you some of the world’s finest accounting trivia. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy our top 12 fascinating accounting facts that you (probably) never knew — from the etymological to the intriguing. 

1. The origination of the word “accounting”

The English word “accounting” comes from the noun “account,” which originated from the Old French “acont,” meaning “account, reckoning, or terminal payment.” The Old French term came from the Latin “computus,” meaning “calculation.”

2. The origination of the word “accountant”

The word accountant in the English language is derived from the Old French word "compter," which is also derived from the Latin word "computare." It was formerly written in English as "accomptant," which was always pronounced by dropping the "p," and in time it gradually changed both in pronunciation and spelling to its present form.

3. The first recorded name in history was etched by an accountant

Dating back to the Mesopotamian Uruk period (circa 3000 BC), the following was etched on a clay tablet: “29,086 measures barley 37 months Kushim,” which scholars believe meant “A total of 29,086 measures of barley were received over the course of 37 months by Kushim.” As a result, Kushim is the earliest-known example of a person’s name in writing. 

4. Bubble gum was invented by an accountant

A 23-year-old accountant named Walter Diemer accidentally invented bubble gum while testing recipes in 1928. When asked how it got its colour, the accountant-inventor commented that “pink food colouring was the only thing I had on hand.”

5. FBI accountants played a huge part in bringing down Al Capone

Financial crimes always leave a footprint. They will almost always be captured in the accounting records somewhere thanks to double-entry bookkeeping, hence the old saying “follow the money.”

In the case of the famous mobster Al Capone, a two-year forensic accounting investigation was conducted by the US Treasury Department and led by special agent (and accountant) Frank Wilson, leading to Capone’s arrest.

6. Before our numbering system was conceived, accountants kept track of animals and grain using clay tokens

The world’s first writing can be traced back to an ancient system of accounting. Early accountants used small geometrically shaped clay tokens to keep track of goods such as livestock and grain produced in the early farming communities of the ancient Near East. 

The token shapes represented various kinds of goods prevalent in the farming economy at the time. For example, a cone stood for a small measurement of barley, a sphere for a larger measurement of barley, and a disc represented sheep. While it’s a far cry from the cloud-based accounting software of today, the system apparently worked.

7. Double-entry bookkeeping was first developed by an Italian mathematician 

Luca Pacioli was the first person to publish a detailed double-entry accounting system in which every debit (Latin for “he owes”) was matched to a credit (“he trusts”). 

A friend of Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci, Pacioli is famously quoted as saying that “a person should not go to sleep at night until the debits equal the credits.” No doubt modern accountants will relate to this idea.

Over 500 years later, double-entry bookkeeping is still the go-to method of recording financial transactions for accounting firms across the world.

8. Celebrities in Accounting

Believe it or not, Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin were both pursuing accounting before their music careers took off.

Jagger studied accounting and finance at the London School of Economics on a scholarship while Plant was given accountancy lessons but abandoned them after only two weeks to go to college and pursue his interest in music.

A son of an accountant, comedian Eddie Izzard also tried his hand at accounting, studying at the University of Sheffield. Unfortunately, he failed all of his exams and was unable to retake them. Luckily he started performing instead and became a successful comedian.

Kenny G, a world-famous saxophonist and best-selling instrumental musician, also has a degree in accounting from the University of Washington. He claims that his degree helped him manage his finances early on in his career and enabled him to choose someone he trusted to handle them when his career took off.

9. Income tax was originally introduced as a temporary measure to finance the war against France

On 9 January 1799, British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger introduced a temporary measure to help cover the cost of his country’s war with Napoleon’s France — a direct tax on citizens’ earned wealth, known as income tax.

Over two-hundred years later, that temporary measure remains very much in place. Oh well. 

10. Accountants spend approximately 1,700 hours hand-counting ballots for the Academy Awards

A team of nine accountants spend up to 1,700 hours prior to Oscar night counting the academy award ballots cast in each category by hand.

11. The words debit and credit come from the Latin words “debitum” and “creditum”

Both of these words have Latin origins, where debit is derived from the word “debitum” (what is due), while credit is derived from the word “creditum” (that which is entrusted).

12. The FBI employs over 2,000 accountants

The FBI employs more than 2,000 accounting special agents, who use their forensic accounting skills to solve all manner of crimes. This showcases the different areas accountants can work in, making it an exciting career with tons of opportunities.

Ready to impress the accounting industry? 

There you have it — 12 interesting facts about accounting that you can wow your colleagues with at the next Christmas party.

From humble beginnings to crime-fighting expertise, we hope this article has provided some insight into the accounting industry and its origins — as well as the countless innovations, breakthroughs, and benefits that accountants have brought to the world.

What fun fact surprised you the most?

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Nicholas Edwards

Nicholas Edwards is a content writer from the UK.

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