aph·​o·​rism | \ˈa-fə-ˌri-zəm \

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 \-​rist \ noun
aphoristic \ˌa-​fə-​ˈris-​tik \ adjective
aphoristically \-​ti-​k(ə-​)lē \ 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

Roaming from Hanoi to Kerkyra to Manhattan, Xie’s language veers between precise imagery, with the details of the world rendered in intimate close-up, and elegant aphorism, zooming out to take in a universal truth from a wide shot. Constance Grady, Vox, "We read all 25 National Book Award finalists for 2018. Here’s what we thought.," 15 Nov. 2018 Yet business leaders who recall the French aphorism that nothing lasts like the provisional will be reassured by the white paper. The Economist, "Hard Brexit is unravelling," 28 June 2018 Almost immediately, Patience Worth began writing aphorisms and parables through the Ouija board. Joy Lanzendorfer, Longreads, "Ghost Writer: The Story of Patience Worth, the Posthumous Author," 14 June 2018 The legal aphorism has long been attributed to Sol Wachtler, former chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, based on a piece that appeared in the New York Daily News in January 1985. Ben Zimmer, WSJ, "‘Indict a Ham Sandwich’ Remains on the Menu for Judges, Prosecutors," 1 June 2018 The book is as much personal remembrance as strategic reflection, and is chock-full of aphorisms and enigmatic adages. Victor Davis Hanson, New York Times, "When to Wage War, and How to Win: A Guide," 20 Apr. 2018 And when Kif holds him still and tries to gather facts, Heidl instead launches into wandering lectures on philosophy and humanity, quoting aphorisms and advising Kif on how to live his life. Olen Steinhauer, New York Times, "A Novel Based on the True Story of a Con Man and His Ghostwriter," 1 June 2018 After all, Dolores-cum-Wyatt was programmed by the likes of Robert Ford and Lee Sizemore, who write dialogue with the subtlety of Michael Bay and fashion aphorisms with the airs of Rupi Kaur. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Westworld: 'Everything Is Code'," 22 Apr. 2018 Sausages bearing the names of national oligarchs are draped over the garden fence, in an apparent nod to an old Hungarian aphorism that mocks the wealthy. The Economist, "The EU is tolerating—and enabling—authoritarian kleptocracy in Hungary," 5 Apr. 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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Statistics for aphorism

Last Updated

20 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for aphorism

The first known use of aphorism was in 1528

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on aphorism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with aphorism

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for aphorism

Spanish Central: Translation of aphorism

Nglish: Translation of aphorism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about aphorism

Comments on aphorism

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living or existing for a long time

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