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Idiom confusion: “cards handed” and P45. 
Posted: 06 July 2012 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I was reading Adam Mars-Jones’s LRB review of Martin Amis’s latest novel when I hit this sentence: “There are times when a satirist has his cards handed to him by a single event (Tom Lehrer interpreted Kissinger’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize as a virtual P45), others when it’s more a matter of being outgunned by reality on a wide front.” (For those who don’t get the reference, Lehrer famously said that political satire became obsolete when Kissinger was awarded the Nobel.) This includes two separate UK idioms for losing one’s employment, “has his cards handed to him” and P45 (this being a form titled Details of employee leaving work that you get when on departure), but both were equally mysterious to me and I had to do some intensive research work (involving Google and a dictionary) to elucidate them, so I thought I’d share the results here.  I presume the Brits among us are thoroughly familiar with both; do Yanks and others find them as opaque as I did?

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Posted: 06 July 2012 02:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I did.

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Posted: 06 July 2012 02:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Me too.  I first took “has his cards handed to him” as a variation on the cliche about being dealt a hand by Fate, while “P45” called to mind either a fighter plane (a la the P51) or a firearm (perhaps a .45 caliber one).  Silly, I know, but there you go.

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Posted: 06 July 2012 05:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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These were opaque, for me, too. I might have been able to contextually guess the general meaning of “has his cards handed to him” but would have missed the nuance because in my experience “cards” have not been required for employment nor returned (or provided) when leaving employment. I’m fairly sure that “P45” would have remained a mystery.

I should strike that last statement. Searching for “what is a p45” led me to a search result that begins: “Q. What is a P45? A. A P45 is a certificate provided by your employer or benefits office showing the total gross income and tax paid up to the date of leaving ...”

Is “given a pink slip” similarly opaque to Leftpondians?

[ Edited: 06 July 2012 05:58 PM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 06 July 2012 09:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Svinyard118 - 06 July 2012 02:48 PM

Me too.  I first took “has his cards handed to him” as a variation on the cliche about being dealt a hand by Fate, while “P45” called to mind either a fighter plane (a la the P51) or a firearm (perhaps a .45 caliber one).  Silly, I know, but there you go.

Almost exactly my reaction.

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Posted: 07 July 2012 01:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Cards is a reference to the old National Insurance Card which you handed to an employer when starting a job. It contained the weekly stamps issued for NI payments. When you left that job your employer handed you your card to be given to the next employer. Here are images of the outside and inside of a 1950s card.

National%20Insurance%20card.jpg

started%20new%20card%201%20week%20before%20i%20left%20for%20NZ.jpg

These old cards were replaced by a computerized plastic card sometime in the 80s and that too has now gone as the whole thing is done in cyberspace. The idiom however lives on. (The P45 is still very much with us).

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Posted: 07 July 2012 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Thanks!  Do you happen to know how old the P45 is?  I left an annoyed note on the talk page of the Wikipedia article because it says nothing about the history.

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Posted: 07 July 2012 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The HM Revenue and Customs site provides the answer.

The growing number of taxpayers during the war led to the need for a more efficient tax collection system, and Pay As You Earn - PAYE - was introduced in 1944 as a result.

In place of annual or twice-yearly collections, tax was deducted by employers from wages weekly or monthly and an employee leaving work was given a P45 recording his or her code number, pay to date and tax paid to date to pass on to a new employer.

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Posted: 07 July 2012 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thanks again!

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Posted: 17 July 2012 12:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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sobiest - 06 July 2012 05:54 PM

Is “given a pink slip” similarly opaque to Leftpondians?

Yes, although the very few times I’ve seen it, I’ve managed to work out from the context that a pink slip was connected somehow with redundancy/sacking/leaving the job.

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Posted: 17 July 2012 03:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Pink slip can also be confusing because the same term is used for a car’s registration slip.

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Posted: 17 July 2012 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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That’s not the only thing the term can (or could) be used for. There were those things that a lady half-way to being undressed used to wear. Maybe ladies wear them still (i’m not quite as au fait in that area as I was 50 years ago ;-)

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Posted: 17 July 2012 01:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Gives new meaning to “racing for the pink slip.”

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Posted: 19 July 2012 06:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I’ve never heard of pink slips referring to cars:

The name of the show, and the tagline "Lose the race - lose your ride", refer to common slang of pink slips representing a vehicle's title document recording ownership, and the derivative street-racing phrase, "racing for pinks," meaning a race in which the winner earns the loser's car. (In California, until recently, the vehicle title was on a pink slip of paper.). Pink slips were common in the Need for Speed franchise, especially under the game Need for Speed: Undercover

I’ve also not heard of “given the pink slip” referring to the P45 so maybe it was used before I returned to the UK.  South Africans will have heard of “slip” meaning petticoat and I still use the word.

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Posted: 19 July 2012 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I vaguely remember “pink slip” referring to cars from my California days.

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Posted: 20 July 2012 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I knew P45 but more widely known from the cod-reggae group is UB40 who formed in 1978 and may have had little success outside the UK.

The band members began as friends who knew each other from various schools across Birmingham. The name “UB40” was selected in reference to the document issued to people claiming unemployment benefit from the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) at the time of the band’s formation. The designation UB40 stood for Unemployment Benefit, Form 40.[2]

Another Brit group of that time was called 23 Skidoo which only Americans would have got. Copacetic!
Half Man Half Biscuit ‘s

... debut album, 1985’s Back in the DHSS, topped the UK Indie Chart and reached number 60 in the UK Album Chart.[3][4] Its title was a play on The Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and also a reference to the DHSS, the government department that dealt with the unemployed, Nigel Blackwell having been on unemployment benefits since 1979.[5] The band’s first single, “The Trumpton Riots"…

Anyone with kids remember Trumpton?

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