It’s time to kill D-E-A-D C-L-I-C

Maybe mnemonics have their place, but “D-E-A-D C-L-I-C” isn’t one to keep. Let’s kill it off.

A friend of mine told me that when she was learning accounting she dared ask why debits increase both expenses and assets. It didn’t make sense to her because debiting expenses appeared to reduce value in the entity and debiting assets increased value. So why would two debit entries on the same side of the ledger have opposite effects?

This is an insightful and sophisticated observation and warrants careful investigation and conversation to help the student understanding fundamental accounting concepts.

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, although you still see variants of “Because it just does!”. One of those is the mnemonic “D-E-A-D C-L-I-C”. If you haven’t come across it, this is how it works:

  • [D-E-A-D] Debit Expenses, Assets, Dividends
  • [C-L-I-C] Credit Liabilities, Income, Capital

Admittedly, I may feel a little too strongly about this, but here are five reasons I want to kill “D-E-A-D C-L-I-C”.

  1. It does not provide a foundation for deep learning. It is a short-cut to help students get the answers rights even when they don’t understand the fundamental accounting concepts.
  2. 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.
  3. It’s unhelpful in any practical sense, because the “credit side” of the ledger can be debited and the “debit side” can be credited.
  4. It also just wrong. In this mnemonic, dividends are included on the debit side, but in fact dividends sit within equity on the credit side of the accounting framework.
  5. “Capital” is not a clearly specified term, and is definitely not a synonym of equity. I have seen a variation that replaces capital with equity and so “C-L-I-C“ become ”L-I-C-E”. Visually arresting but no more appealing.

Maybe mnemonics have their place, but this isn’t one of them. It’s time to kill it off. Let’s move students to understanding why we debit and credit, rather than reciting what we debit and credit.

2 thoughts on “It’s time to kill D-E-A-D C-L-I-C”

  1. 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. 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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