Vanderbilt Law Review


Clyde L. Ball

First Page



Each of the states which has adopted some form of sales tax' has also adopted its own individual definition of the term "sale" or retail sale." So long as a tax upon a business transaction does not offend some constitutional principle, a legislature is free to include such transaction within its statutory definition of a sale for purposes of an excise tax levy. The statutory definitions, then, are conditioned not by the normal denotation or connotation of the word "sale," but rather by the taxing policies of the several legislative bodies. Synthesis of these varying statutes into an acceptable general statement is hardly possible; about the most one can do is to classify and catalogue.

If one strips from the various statutory definitions those elements which lie clearly outside the ordinary concept of sale, a problem of definition still remains. It is a commonplace that words have precise meaning only when considered within the context in which they are used. Thus, quite aside from the special statutory definition, a transaction may be a sale for one purpose and not for another. The purpose of this article is to consider what kinds of transactions generally fall within the meaning of the term "sale" as the word is used in the expression, "retail sale of tangible personal property" the common statutory statement of the taxable transaction in sales tax statutes.