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 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, "What makes America so beautiful?," 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, "How Mank costume designer Trish Summerville recreated classic Hollywood," 20 Nov. 2020 Her aphorism doesn’t really apply to the beautiful. Leo Robson, Harper's Magazine, "A Swing and Amis," 27 Oct. 2020 To adapt a famous aphorism, your freedom to spray forth a fog of disease particles ends at the tip of my nose. Ryan Cooper, TheWeek, "Massachusetts is an exception to America's coronavirus failure," 2 July 2020 The aphorism weighs heavily on those trained to study the behaviors and achievements of past cultures. Steve Helber, National Geographic, "As monuments fall, how does the world reckon with a racist past?," 29 June 2020 This aphorism can be applied to commercial space now that SpaceX has successfully launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket inside Dragonship Endeavour. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "After Crew Dragon soars, some in Congress tout benefits of commercial space," 2 June 2020 That aphorism, delivered so indelibly by Hanks as the cantankerous manager Jimmy Dugan, is only one of many reasons the director Penny Marshall’s poignant comedy-drama about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League endures. Bruce Fretts, New York Times, "With Baseball Benched, These Movies Make Good Relievers," 1 Apr. 2020 His most unforgettable stories are the ones that set his mannerism against literary forms that stress the essentially social nature of language: the index, the aphorism, the commonplace book, the interview, the e-mail. Merve Emre, The New York Review of Books, "Private Parts of Speech," 10 Mar. 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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Time Traveler for aphorism

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The first known use of aphorism was in 1528

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Cite this Entry

“Aphorism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aphorism. Accessed 6 Mar. 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

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