aph·​o·​rism | \ ˈa-fə-ˌri-zəm How to pronounce aphorism (audio) \

Definition of aphorism

1 : a concise statement of a principle
2 : a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment : adage the high-minded aphorism, "Let us value the quality of life, not the quantity"
3 : an ingeniously terse style of expression : aphoristic language These are dazzling chapters, packed with perfectly chosen anecdotes and pithy with aphorism.— John Keegan

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Other Words from aphorism

aphorist \ ˈa-​fə-​rist How to pronounce aphorist (audio) \ noun
aphoristic \ ˌa-​fə-​ˈri-​stik How to pronounce aphoristic (audio) \ adjective
aphoristically \ ˌa-​fə-​ˈri-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce aphoristically (audio) \ adverb

Did You Know?

Aphorism was originally used in the world of medicine. Credit Hippocrates, the Greek physician regarded as the father of modern medicine, with influencing our use of the word. He used aphorismos (a Greek ancestor of aphorism meaning "definition" or "aphorism") in titling a book outlining his principles on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. That volume offered many examples that helped to define aphorism, beginning with the statement that starts the book's introduction: "Life is short, Art long, Occasion sudden and dangerous, Experience deceitful, and Judgment difficult." English speakers originally used the term mainly in the realm of the physical sciences, but eventually broadened its use to cover principles in other fields.

Examples of aphorism in a Sentence

Confronted by a broadminded, witty, and tolerant cosmopolitan, for whom the infinite varieties of human custom offered a source of inexhaustible fascination, Thucydides presented himself as a humorless nationalist, an intellectual given to political aphorisms and abstract generalizations. — Peter Green, New York Review of Books, 15 May 2008 It doesn't take long to learn that a lie always unravels and that it always ends up making you feel royally cruddy. "Do the kind of work during the day that allows you to sleep at night" was an aphorism my grandfather was fond of. — Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Newsweek, 6 Mar. 2006 The Sun twice went into journalism legend. Its city editor John Bogart is generally credited with the aphorism "When a dog bites a man, that's not news. But when a man bites a dog, that's news." And the paper delivered America's most treasured editorial in 1897, when a young girl, whose playmates had told her there was no Santa Claus, wrote and asked the Sun to tell her the truth. — Peter Andrews, American Heritage, October 1994 Truman is remembered as much today for his aphorisms as his policies: "The buck stops here," "If you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen," and the like. Such slogans are endearing in a time of plastic politicians who make a career of ducking responsibilities … — Ronald Steel, New Republic, 10 Aug. 1992 When decorating, remember the familiar aphorism, “less is more.” what does the aphorism “Hindsight is 20/20” mean?
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Recent Examples on the Web That aphorism, delivered so indelibly by Hanks as the cantankerous manager Jimmy Dugan, is only one of many reasons the director Penny Marshall’s poignant comedy-drama about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League endures. Bruce Fretts, New York Times, "With Baseball Benched, These Movies Make Good Relievers," 1 Apr. 2020 His most unforgettable stories are the ones that set his mannerism against literary forms that stress the essentially social nature of language: the index, the aphorism, the commonplace book, the interview, the e-mail. Merve Emre, The New York Review of Books, "Private Parts of Speech," 10 Mar. 2020 As an old tech-industry aphorism puts it, email is the cockroach of the internet. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Work Ruined Email," 2 Aug. 2019 The oldest thought, the thought that for the first time felt no need to be presented as a story, took the form of aphorisms on hunting. Roberto Calasso, Harper's Magazine, "Becoming Human," 30 Mar. 2020 These missives from Kawakubo can read like aphorisms dispensed by a boardwalk fortuneteller. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, "At Paris Fashion Week, designers reworked the tuxedo and explored the meaning of color. And, oh yeah, Kanye showed up.," 3 Mar. 2020 The value of her music doesn’t come down to whether her lyrics land like sacred mantras or quote-a-day calendar aphorisms. Chris Richards, Washington Post, "Lizzo is everything. Is that enough?," 23 Jan. 2020 Rather reportedly tied himself to a tree during a hurricane before such gimmicks became standard — then entertained on election nights with corn pone aphorisms and an offbeat personality that inspired an REM song. Joel Mathis, TheWeek, "The end of Chris Matthews," 3 Mar. 2020 For the most part, this was an aphorism earnestly accepted as a statement of good faith. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, "Jeff Bezos’s Master Plan," 10 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'aphorism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of aphorism

1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for aphorism

Middle French aphorisme, from Late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos definition, aphorism, from aphorizein to define, from apo- + horizein to bound — more at horizon

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Time Traveler for aphorism

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The first known use of aphorism was in 1528

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Last Updated

23 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Aphorism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aphorism. Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for aphorism


How to pronounce aphorism (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of aphorism

: a short phrase that expresses a true or wise idea

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More from Merriam-Webster on aphorism

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for aphorism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with aphorism

Spanish Central: Translation of aphorism

Nglish: Translation of aphorism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about aphorism

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