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An aphorism (from Greek ἀφορισμός aphorismos, "delimitation") is a terse saying, expressing a general truth, principle, or astute observation, and spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form. Aphorism literally means a "distinction" or "definition". The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates. The oft-cited first sentence of this work (see Ars longa, vita brevis) is:

The term was later applied to maxims of physical science, then statements of all kinds of philosophical, moral, or literary principles. In modern usage an aphorism is generally understood to be a concise statement containing a subjective truth or observation, cleverly and pithily written.

A well-known example is

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary


1520s (especially in reference to the "Aphorisms of Hippocrates"), from Middle French aphorisme (14c., aufforisme), from Late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos "definition, pithy sentence," from aphorizein "to mark off, divide," from apo- "from" (see apo-) + horizein "to bound" (see horizon).\n

\nAn aphorism is a short, pithy statement containing a truth of general import; an axiom is a statement of self-evident truth; a theorem is a demonstrable proposition in science or mathematics; an epigram is like an aphorism, but lacking in general import. Maxim and saying can be used as synonyms for aphorism.

The Collaborative International Dictionary


Aphorism \Aph"o*rism\, n. [F. aphorisme, fr. Gr. ? definition, a short, pithy sentence, fr. ? to mark off by boundaries, to define; ? from + ? to separate, part. See Horizon.] A comprehensive maxim or principle expressed in a few words; a sharply defined sentence relating to abstract truth rather than to practical matters.

The first aphorism of Hippocrates is, ``Life is short, and the art is long.''

Syn: Axiom; maxim; adage; proverb; apothegm; saying; saw; truism; dictum. See Axiom.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English


▪ But good aphorisms do not have to be meaningful in a strict sense.
▪ He developed an aphorism, New York is over-eager to get rich.
▪ Perhaps the same aphorism could be said of our body.
▪ Refusing to build a system or to allow his philosophy to be systematized, he writes in aphorisms.
▪ Sounds like an aphorism from some ancient sage, and so it is.
▪ These speeches had to be rich in literary illusion and ruminative aphorism.


n. An original laconic phrase conveying some principle or concept of thought.



n. a short pithy instructive saying [syn: apothegm, apophthegm]

Usage examples of "aphorism".

If you will look at the first aphorism of the ancient Master you will see that before all remedies he places the proper conduct of the patient and his attendants, and the fit ordering of all the conditions surrounding him.

Fisher of Beverly, but he followed the aphorism of the Father of Medicine, and kept extreme remedies for extreme cases.

But its basis was expediency, and the baronet had a better aphorism of his own to confute him with.

Keep up the circulation of his blood for years to come, and excite aphorism and anecdotes and dreams for the instruction and amusements by the action of his brain upon his mind.

The quoting of an aphorism, like the angry barking of a dog or the smell of overcooked broccoli, rarely indicates that something helpful is about to happen.

An aphorism is merely a small group of words arranged in a certain order because they sound good that way, but oftentimes people tend to say them as if they were saying something very mysterious and wise.

The three Baudelaires looked at the grinning photographs and read the flowery aphorism and felt a little flutter in their stomachs.

Accuracy of thought has seldom been more recklessly offered up to pungency of expression than in the above-cited aphorism of Pope.

He parodies and rephrases an aphorism from Terence that Ivan had never thought of before.

Shall I ever forget that rainy day in Lyons, that dingy bookshop, where I found the Aetius, long missing from my Artis bledicae Principes, and where I bought for a small pecuniary consideration, though it was marked rare, and was really tres rare, the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, edited by and with a preface from the hand of Francis Rabelais?

It consisted of a selection of original aphorisms by an anonymous gentleman, who in this bashful manner gave a bruised heart to the world.

Lady Blandish, pressing an almondy finger-nail to one of the Aphorisms, which instanced how age and adversity must clay-enclose us ere we can effectually resist the magnetism of any human creature in our path.

Berry to study, and really excellent Aphorisms sprang from the plain human bases this natural couple presented.

With the one-sided exaggeration incident to most aphorisms, this is true.

He already showed the power, in which he was probably unequalled, of coining aphorisms out of commonplace.