ep·​i·​gram | \ ˈe-pə-ˌgram How to pronounce epigram (audio) \

Definition of epigram

1 : a concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought
2 : a terse, sage, or witty and often paradoxical saying
3 : epigrammatic expression

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Other Words from epigram

epigrammatism \ ˌe-​pə-​ˈgra-​mə-​ˌti-​zəm How to pronounce epigram (audio) \ noun
epigrammatist \ ˌe-​pə-​ˈgra-​mə-​tist How to pronounce epigram (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?

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 The epigram is applicable to the current stock market flavor-of-the-year, SPACs, or Special Purpose Acquisition Corporations. Jerry Weissman, Forbes, "SPACs and IPOs," 9 Apr. 2021 Some female citizens managed huge fortunes, such as those that appear in epigrams by the first century poet Martial. National Geographic, "In ancient Rome, citizenship was the path to power," 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, "Ross Perot, Brash Texas Billionaire Who Ran for President, Dies at 89," 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, "The Art of Aphorism," 15 July 2019 These are the regal epigrams that stand alone, can seem like platitudes, and yet supply arch but indirect commentary on a turn of events without naming or tagging the players. Jason Pontin, WIRED, "Donald Trump and the Golden Age of Subtweeting," 4 May 2018 Its writing resembles nothing so much as Scripture; ideas are condensed to epigrams, four or five to a paragraph. Bill Mckibben, New Republic, "What Would Thoreau Think of Climate Change?," 12 July 2017 The beauty of Bangs's writing is its messiness—the musings, tangents, anecdotes, and epigrams that somehow end up addressing the main point of his essay, and the way all this ephemera congeals into a coherent body of work. Tal Rosenberg, Chicago Reader, "A one-man show about Lester Bangs has no psychotic reactions," 12 July 2017 Like the moralist Nietzsche, who also spun off disconcerting and misquotable epigrams, Machiavelli is at once overfamiliar and obscure. Edmund Fawcett, New York Times, "Machiavelli: Good Guy or Bad? This Biography Argues for the Former," 16 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'epigram.' 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 epigram

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for epigram

Middle English epigrame, from Latin epigrammat-, epigramma, from Greek, from epigraphein to write on, inscribe, from epi- + graphein to write — more at carve

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Time Traveler for epigram

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

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Last Updated

15 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Epigram.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epigram. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of epigram

: a short and clever poem or saying

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