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

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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.

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Example Sentences

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? See More
Recent Examples on the Web Without the wit inherent in an epigram, a sententious formulation becomes a mere adage, aphorism, apothegm, gnome, maxim, or saw. Bryan A. Garner, National Review, 15 Sep. 2022 Celebs have surely taken the aphorism to heart this summer. André-naquian Wheeler, Vogue, 1 Sep. 2022 Dave Carney, a longtime Republican strategist, was even blunter about the landscape of governor’s races, invoking an old aphorism the association has embraced. Jonathan Martin, BostonGlobe.com, 1 Aug. 2022 To alter Pope’s famous aphorism: if an honest man is the noblest work of God, an honest craftsman may be the sweetest servant of the muses. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 12 July 2022 Still, the two-types-of-runner theory is one of those ideas that brings to mind the statistician George Box’s aphorism: All models are wrong, but some are useful. Alex Hutchinson, Outside Online, 17 Oct. 2020 In a single letter, Walpole might wander from war to weddings to art and anecdote and aphorism. Catherine Ostler, WSJ, 15 Apr. 2022 What a lot of people don't know is that that's only half the aphorism. Sarah Vitak, Scientific American, 15 Mar. 2022 Variations of that famous aphorism are attributed to California Senator Hiram Johnson at the turn of the 20th century and the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus, among others. Michael Posner, Forbes, 14 Mar. 2022 See More

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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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 5 Oct. 2022.

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Last Updated: 27 Sep 2022

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