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Example:

Trump says Putin's support is an asset, not a liability.

What do people really mean when they say that something is an asset, not a liability? It seems like this expression has become very colloquial and you can hear it used a lot in many different contexts.

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2 Answers 2

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An asset is a useful and desirable thing or quality

A liability is something that holds one back; a handicap.

Saying something is "an asset, not a liability" is often used to counter a pronouncement that something is harmful; saying to the contrary that it is actually the reverse, a benefit.

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I'm not sure this is an "idiom", but certainly associated with the bookkeeping.

For example, if a company purchase, to say, a 10 million dollar building by borrowing from a bank, the accountant makes an entry into the journal such as below. ( And the company can not pay the debt worth 10 million at once but by installments. )

Building 10,000,000 USD / Long term liability 10,000,000 USD

The left side, in the bookkeeping worlds, almost always records asset type items, such as money in the bank, cars, long term investment ( such as 10 years-maturity bond ), and so on. ( but not necessarily ), and the right side records the debt type, or capital, and accumulated incomes ( which is, incomes accumulated so far. )

So your

Trump says Putin's support is an asset, not a liability.

means Trump is saying Putin's support is equal to money to help him not a burden aka debt to him.

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  • Assets and liabilities are accounting terms and have non-accounting meanings as well. "an asset, not a liability" is a common expression that doesn't at all relate to equating things to money.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 5:39
  • Yes.But the origin dates back at least 15 century Italian renaissance, doesn't it? If you don't have any, materials such as money and buildings you own, the "common expression" would have not appeared. Rather the expression itself is the derivative from the economic activities.
    – user17814
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 5:47
  • I'm not sure of the history, whether the accounting usage came from common terms or the other way around. It would be hard to believe that the usage isn't closely related, though. But that's the individual terms, themselves. "An asset, not a liability" is a common, non-accounting expression used in everyday language. The meaning of the expression derives from the non-accounting meanings of the words. I'm not sure it would even typically be used in an accounting sense (unless you're talking about students struggling to learn bookkeeping principles or "creative" accounting cheaters).
    – fixer1234
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 6:07
  • I mean, the meaning it too easy for me so that I said I am not sure it is an "idiom". If you insist such as whether the accounting usage came from common terms or the other way around, Merriam Unagridged says, Origin of Assets -- back-formation from assets, singular, sufficient property to pay debts and legacies, from Anglo-French asetz, from Old French asez, assez enough, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin ad satis, from Latin ad to + satis enough — more at at, sad
    – user17814
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 6:15
  • I would like to say, I am sorry, answering by non native-speakers is very upsetting, am I wrong?
    – user17814
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 6:17

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