noun aph·o·rism \ ˈa-fə-ˌri-zəm \
|Updated on: 31 Jul 2018

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


play \-rist\ noun


play \ˌa-fə-ˈris-tik\ adjective


play \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

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Examples of aphorism in a Sentence

  1. 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 GreenNew York Review of Books15 May 2008
  2. 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 RosenthalNewsweek6 Mar. 2006
  3. 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 AndrewsAmerican HeritageOctober 1994
  4. 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 SteelNew Republic10 Aug. 1992
  5. When decorating, remember the familiar aphorism, “less is more.”

  6. what does the aphorism “Hindsight is 20/20” mean?

Recent Examples of aphorism from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

APHORISM Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of aphorism for English Language Learners

  • : a short phrase that expresses a true or wise idea

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excessive admiration or flattery

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