ep·​i·​gram ˈe-pə-ˌgram How to pronounce epigram (audio)
: a concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought
: a terse, sage, or witty and often paradoxical saying
: epigrammatic expression
epigrammatism noun
epigrammatist noun

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Ancient Greeks and Romans used the word epigramma (from Greek epigraphein, meaning "to write on") to refer to a concise, witty, and often satirical verse. The Roman poet Martial (who published eleven books of these epigrammata, or epigrams, between the years 86 and 98 C.E.) was a master of the form: "You puff the poets of other days, / the living you deplore. / Spare me the accolade: your praise / Is not worth dying for." English speakers adopted the "verse" sense of the word when we first used epigram for a concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event in the 15th century. In the late 18th century, we began using epigram for concise, witty sayings, even if they didn't rhyme.

Examples of epigram in a Sentence

Benjamin Franklin's famous epigram, “Remember that time is money”.
Recent Examples on the Web One of the book's epigrams is from Amy Richlin of the University of California, Los Angeles, talking about her experience in the 1970s. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 8 Nov. 2023 An epigram for one of his chapters in The Real Anthony Fauci, a quote from C. S. Lewis, offers a hint: Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. Matthew Scully, National Review, 16 May 2023 An epigram by any other name . Bryan A. Garner, National Review, 15 Sep. 2022 Unlike those, an epigram has a flash of pleasing humor in it. Bryan A. Garner, National Review, 15 Sep. 2022 The epigram is applicable to the current stock market flavor-of-the-year, SPACs, or Special Purpose Acquisition Corporations. Jerry Weissman, Forbes, 9 Apr. 2021 Some female citizens managed huge fortunes, such as those that appear in epigrams by the first century poet Martial. National Geographic, 4 Nov. 2019 By then the epigrams had paled, and voters suspected that his business strengths, the risk-taking and stubborn autocratic personality, might not serve a president constrained by Congress and public opinion. Robert D. McFadden, New York Times, 9 July 2019 This kind of aphorism fills the space left not only by the epigram but by the epistles once exchanged by friends with time to be funny. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 15 July 2019 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'epigram.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English epigrame, borrowed from Latin epigrammat-, epigramma "inscription, epitaph, epigram," borrowed from Greek epigrammat-, epígramma "inscription on a tomb, monument or work of art" (Late Greek, "short poem, epigram"), from epigráphein "to mark the surface of, graze, scratch a mark on, inscribe" (from epi- epi- + gráphein "to cut into, scratch, inscribe, write") + -mat-, -ma, resultative noun suffix — more at carve

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of epigram was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near epigram

Cite this Entry

“Epigram.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epigram. Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


ep·​i·​gram ˈep-ə-ˌgram How to pronounce epigram (audio)
: a short poem ending with a clever or witty expression
: a brief witty saying
epigrammatist noun

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