aph·​o·​rism ˈa-fə-ˌri-zəm How to pronounce aphorism (audio)
: a concise statement of a principle
: a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment : adage
the high-minded aphorism, "Let us value the quality of life, not the quantity"
: an ingeniously terse style of expression : aphoristic language
These are dazzling chapters, packed with perfectly chosen anecdotes and pithy with aphorism.John Keegan
aphorist noun
aphoristic adjective
aphoristically 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?
Recent Examples on the Web The priest at first offers her pleasantries and aphorisms about dealing with suffering, but after listening to her agony, his affect changes. Alissa Wilkinson, New York Times, 11 May 2024 Some scientists took a more sanguine view, spouting an aphorism that was heard often in 2005: Dead birds don’t fly. Helen Branswell, STAT, 9 May 2024 Over the past century, the aphorism has become a battle cry for architects and designers, defining a modernist aesthetic that champions the minimal and the refined over the busy and the ornamental as a path toward better living. Lauren Gallow, Robb Report, 17 Mar. 2024 Pundits and politicians, supporters as well as critics, have encapsulated this problem with a clever aphorism: This is the bridge that divides. Gisela Salim-Peyer, The Atlantic, 11 Dec. 2023 More than once, characters in The Changeling are confronted with this tiresomely cryptic aphorism, which also manages to describe the challenges of watching The Changeling. Kristen Baldwin, EW.com, 1 Sep. 2023 Hirayama’s bond with Niko involves drolly abstract aphorisms but no questions about specifics, whether past, present, or future. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 2024 The colorful aphorisms and anecdotes that give conversations their inherently human quality, but that often confound large language models, could begin to vanish from the human discourse. Albert Fox Cahn, The Atlantic, 17 Jan. 2024 This aphorism is epitomized in Piedmont and in how well the Italian region’s famous truffles pair with the earthy aromatics of Barolo, whose sour-cherry-fruit tones and elevated tannins balance the pasta’s creamy richness. Jason O'Bryan, Robb Report, 12 Nov. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'aphorism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of aphorism was in 1528


Dictionary Entries Near aphorism

Cite this Entry

“Aphorism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aphorism. Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


aph·​o·​rism ˈaf-ə-ˌriz-əm How to pronounce aphorism (audio)
: a short statement of a general truth or idea
aphorist noun
aphoristic adjective
aphoristically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on aphorism

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!