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 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 Remember the Ronald Reagan aphorism about the nine most terrifying words in the English language? William Mcgurn, WSJ, "Reporter Trolls Christian Schools," 28 Jan. 2019 Warren Buffett came to Fenway Park on Thursday, offering up folksy aphorisms, management advice, and a baseball metaphor or two. BostonGlobe.com, "On second thought, maybe strike that last one.," 6 Dec. 2019 But in Santayana’s aphorism, history operates like a Ferris wheel or a carousel, literally stuck going in circles. Patty Limerick, The Denver Post, "Limerick: The history we are blessed to repeat," 19 Nov. 2019 Still, there are compensations aplenty in sharing the politician's triumphs and frustrations as distilled by Fierstein, an eternally captivating storyteller who sprinkles the fond salute with Yiddishisms, zingers and amusing aphorisms. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Bella Bella': Theater Review," 23 Oct. 2019 Praised for his exceptional lyrical vocal style and for the complex rhythmic structure of his phrasing, Maelo incorporated greetings, religious chants, onomatopoeias, popular sayings, proverbs and aphorisms into his improvisations. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenon digs deeply into music of Puerto Rico," 18 Sep. 2019 At the Red Kettle, just off the town square, Dillman, who arrived in the 1970s to go rock climbing and essentially never left, is finishing her breakfast, beneath a wall of aphorisms and one-liners. James Rainey, Los Angeles Times, "Idyllwild prized its isolation. Now, with the roads into town wrecked, it feels all alone," 21 July 2019 There are long critical essays, short book reviews, reportage with a literary inflection, histories, missives, diary entries, aphorisms, parables, advice, dreams, a test, fictional excursus and, yes, lists. Zachary Fine, WSJ, "‘Attention’ Review: Anatomist of Our Disorder," 30 Aug. 2018

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

16 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Aphorism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aphorisms. Accessed 18 Feb. 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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