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 aphorism (audio) \ noun
aphoristic \ ˌa-​fə-​ˈri-​stik How to pronounce aphorism (audio) \ adjective
aphoristically \ ˌa-​fə-​ˈri-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce aphorism (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 Of the many lessons from the massive struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries, this aphorism nears the top of the list. Aron Ravin, National Review, 16 June 2021 The Luxe seems to take the aphorism, knowledge is power, to new levels, inviting users to check out the Health Metrics dashboard, with insights into breathing rate, resting heart rate and skin temperature. David Phelan, Forbes, 19 Apr. 2021 If the aphorism is true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then Dave Terrazas believes the way to a student’s brain runs along the same route. San Antonio Express-News, 30 Mar. 2021 From Detroit to Dubai to Dublin, PowerPoint decks were suddenly ablaze with the aphorism. Robert Tucker, Forbes, 17 Mar. 2021 By day, Andrew Cuomo would calm and console the nation at his news briefings through the wonders of PowerPoint and homespun aphorism. Washington Post, 2 Mar. 2021 Home is where the heart is—to use an aphorism generally credited to first-century Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder—and much power can come from home. Eric Kruszewski, National Geographic, 20 Oct. 2020 My monkeys, my circus — this aphorism becomes literal at a climactic San Simeon party based on real Hearst mansion revels. Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com, 20 Nov. 2020 Her aphorism doesn’t really apply to the beautiful. Leo Robson, Harper's Magazine, 27 Oct. 2020

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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The first known use of aphorism was in 1528

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Last Updated

23 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Aphorism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aphorism. Accessed 31 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for aphorism



English Language Learners Definition of aphorism

: a short phrase that expresses a true or wise idea

More from Merriam-Webster on aphorism

Nglish: Translation of aphorism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about aphorism


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