DEAD CLIC: it’s time to kill it off

Mnemonics may have their place but “DEAD CLIC” isn’t one to keep. Let’s kill it off.

Two towers of wooden blocks — one with blocks missing and the other solid and well built.
DEAD CLIC is learning without solid foundations

A friend told me that when she was learning accounting she dared to ask “Why do debits increase both expenses and assets?” This didn’t seem to make sense to her because a debiting effect to expenses reduces value in the entity and a debiting effect in assets increases value. How could two debiting entries on the same side of the ledger have opposite effects on entity value?

This is a reasonable question. In fact, it’s an insightful and sophisticated observation that warrants careful consideration. It presents an opportunity to develop the student’s understanding of fundamental accounting concepts.

Instead, her teacher tried to explain, and tried again, and then he shouted “Because it just does!”

This was a long time ago and I’m sure teaching has advanced since then, although you still see variants of “Because it just does!”. One of those is the mnemonic “DEAD CLIC”. If you haven’t come across it, this is how it attempts to explain debits and credits:


D — Debit:

  • E — Expenses
  • A — Assets
  • D — Dividends


C — Credit:

  • L — Liabilities
  • I — Income
  • C — Capital

There are variations. DEAD RELIC (Revenue, Equity, Liabilities are Increased by Credits) is quite popular, but has similar shortcomings.

Five reasons DEAD CLIC doesn’t work

The simplicty of DEAD CLIC makes it seductive, but that doesn’t make it effective. Possibly, I feel more strongly about this than most, but here are five reasons I want to kill off DEAD CLIC.

  1. It doesn’t provide foundations for deep learning. It’s a simple short-cut to help students get to the right answer even when they don’t understand fundamental accounting concepts.
  2. It conflates the concepts of the debit and credit sides of the accounting framework with the debiting and crediting effects of transactions. To even talk about “debits” and “credits” without making this distinction clear is to invite long-lasting confusion among your students.
  3. Anything that enables students to skip over the philosophical roots of why assets and expenses are on the “debit side” and liabilities, income and equity are on the “credit side” is a missed opportunity.
  4. It’s also just plain wrong. Dividends are included within debits, but the dividend account sits within equity on the credit side of the accounting framework. On its own, this is reason enough to avoid DEAD CLIC, as it will surely confuse rather than help students.
  5. “Capital” is incorrectly used as a synonym for equity. Capital is an ambiguous term and accountants use it in many different contexts, for example working capital, capital exenditure, share capital, return on capital.

Maybe mnemonics have their place, but this isn’t one of them. It’s time to kill it off.

What’s better than DEAD CLIC?

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2 thoughts on "DEAD CLIC: it’s time to kill it off"

  1. David Kolitz says:

    Entirely agree with killing off D-E-A-D-C-L-I-C!
    I have often set a short test question which asks “if assets are so called good things and expenses are so called bad things, why do they both increase with a debit?” I would now ask it as “if assets are things of value and expenses are value sacrificing activities, why do they both increase with a debit?”

  2. Sam Bell says:

    I disagree a little – although I would prefer that students get adequate the time to understand what they are doing at a deeper level isn’t there an argument to say that a tool such as DEADCLIC allows students to practise questions and build a ‘muscle memory’ for double entry? Conceptually double entry can be a real challenge, especially when students are grappling with difficult terminology at the same time. There’s some validity (from an experiential learning perspective) to giving students a crutch to allow them the benefit of practise to develop an understanding. I agree DEAD CLIC shouldn’t be the foundation of our teaching, but it has its uses as a learning aid.

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