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This question is about a specific Seinfeld episode "The Package".

For those that are familiar with the show, Kramer breaks-up Jerry stereo package and sends it back to him with a insurance. That way he could claim that the USPS screwed it up and get the money for it. Once the package arrived, here's the dialogue:

Jerry: "What happened to my stereo? It's all smashed up."

Kramer: "That's right. Now it looks like it was broken during shipping and I

insured it for $400."

Jerry: "But you were supposed to get me a refund."

Kramer: "You can't get a refund. Your warranty expired two years ago."

Jerry: "So were going to make the Post Office pay for my new stereo?"

Kramer: "It's just a write off for them."

Jerry: "How is it a write off?"

Kramer: "They just write it off."

Jerry : Write it off what?"

Kramer: "Jerry all these big companies they write off everything."

Jerry: "You don't even know what a write off is."

Kramer: "Do you?"

Jerry: "No. I don't."

Kramer: "But they do and they are the ones writing it off."

Jerry: "I wish I just had the last twenty seconds of my life back."

Anyway. I don't watch the show with subtitles. I'm from Brazil and I get it pretty well except for this particular term "Write Off". Once I saw it with subtitles just to see what they translated it to and - basically - they translated "Write Off" as an obligation, something people have the right to claim from USPS. I'm not convinced.

Can you help me out on this one?

Thanks so far.

PS: Dialogue taken from Seinfeld Scripts

  • I think this is General Reference. At the top of this Wikipedia page for write-off it says For insurance write-offs, see Total loss – FumbleFingers Dec 20 '13 at 21:58
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    Basically what Kristina said. – Tico Dec 20 '13 at 22:00
  • I don't think so. The Seinfield script is "funny" because at least one if not both of the conversants clearly don't understand the meaning of the term they're bandying about. There's no doubt that since they're talking about the insurers reaction to a claim, the real meaning is total loss - which will be replaced, not repaired. The idea that insurers might claim tax relief on "written off" items for which they accepted premiums is truly laughable. They are in the business of underwriting risks, after all. – FumbleFingers Dec 20 '13 at 22:06
  • write off see first definition. – Matt E. Эллен Dec 20 '13 at 22:15
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    +1 Kramer just cracks me up every time. – Jim Dec 21 '13 at 0:49
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The idea is that the Post Office will have a budget for 'losses in transit' and they can just pay the claim and the accountants will just transfer the loss to that budget without affecting the real business. Similar ideas are that 'you can write it off against tax' if you claim [the expense] as a deduction from your taxable income or 'you can write it off against insurance' if you include a small unjustified claim (like this one) when you make a large justified one.

The idea doesn't really bear close examination (as Jerry demonstrates) but it is a popular phrase nonetheless.

Edit: after consideration, I think it all springs from 'write off against tax'. It is true that sometimes a company will, for example, keep a loss-making division going so that it can claim the losses as a business expense, and pay less tax because of it. In such (rare) circumstances, the 'tax write-off' has a value of its own. The concept, however, has spread beyond the rarefied accounting and legal circles where it has a genuine meaning and into general use where 'a write-off' (not to be confused with the sense of a vehicle damaged beyond repair, though the origins are connected) means merely 'a loss that's trivial or unreal'.

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"Write off" means that the USPS can consider the payout of the insurance claim as a tax deduction (cost of doing business) at the end of the year. I'm sure there is a more technically legal explanation but that it what is meant in that context.

#2 from the Freedictionary.com:

write off something, also write something off

  1. to charge something as a business expense. Ex.: "You can write off your cell phone and all the costs of service for it. I'm giving the furniture to a local church and writing it off as a donation."
  • I see. Let's wait some more answers. This one does make sense. Thanks for both editing and answering my post. BTW, I'm not the one who downvoted! – Tico Dec 20 '13 at 21:54
  • No. In insurance terminology, a "write-off" denotes something which is damaged beyond repair (the insurers will pay for a replacement, not repair). – FumbleFingers Dec 20 '13 at 21:55
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    @FumbleFingers, I'm not sure that is really a detail that affects the OP's understanding of the expression, though I'm sure you're probably right. It's the idea that USPS will pay for Jerry's new stereo and Kramer justifies his actions by flippantly considering the expense nominal to the deep pockets of the USPS. That's how I interpreted the gist of the dialog when I watched this episode. – Kristina Lopez Dec 20 '13 at 22:01

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