1 : a concise statement of a principle
3 : an ingeniously terse style of expression
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.
"Michael sighed…. He had known that his mother had told Gina that cryptic aphorism, but he'd long since forgotten and could not think why it had any particular significance, now. No more significance than his father's cryptic aphorism: What are people for, except to let you down." — Joyce Carol Oates (as Rosamond Smith), Snake Eyes, 1992
"'Brevity is the soul of wit,' Shakespeare's Polonius says, issuing the greatest unintentional aphorism in literature: at the time, scholars say, the line meant merely that concision is the essence of useful intelligence, and, of course, it was uttered as part of a deliberately long-winded speech. But it now captures … a subtler truth: a joke is improved by compression." — Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 15 July 2019
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