Definition of aphorism in US English:



  • 1A pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.”

    ‘the old aphorism “the child is father to the man”’
    • ‘Today, the old aphorism about power has been forgotten.’
    • ‘Wilde, who could never resist an aphorism, frequently undermines the seriousness of his beliefs by his brilliant and paradoxical style.’
    • ‘Life, apparently, begins at 40, or so the old aphorism would have us believe.’
    • ‘Edison's method was to doggedly persist in searching for an answer to a problem, expressed in his memorable aphorism that invention is ‘ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.’’
    • ‘Like most loved aphorisms, it contains a substantial truth, but also disguises the full truth.’
    • ‘It is a book of aphorisms - short, pithy, philosophical nuggets.’
    • ‘A small, lively man with limpid blue eyes and an unruly thatch of thinning white hair, Hill delighted participants in his workshop with his pithy one-liners and folksy aphorisms.’
    • ‘In all these examples an aphorism as a general truth makes a powerful point in its present context, but it could also make good sense in a very different context.’
    • ‘As with many quotes there's a good deal of truth in it and, as with many aphorisms, that truth becomes more and more shallow and two-dimensional as it is examined.’
    • ‘He came to take great pleasure in his craft with words, honing them like his little wood sculptures, dreaming up pithy wisecracks and aphorisms which he collected and displayed in his office.’
    • ‘Doesn't matter that my most common response is to point out that aphorisms are the cheapest form of intelligent comment, I get reminded now and then that sarcasm just isn't on.’
    • ‘The fact of the matter is that he has not put his money where his mouth is, to use the old aphorism.’
    • ‘Politics is the art of the possible, as the old aphorism puts it, and progress is usually incremental.’
    • ‘In a neat comment, which like many of his aphorisms contains a creative paradox, he says that ‘translation feeds a national literature’.’
    • ‘And the loveable curmudgeon is responsible for most of literature's best quotations, maxims and aphorisms.’
    • ‘It is a book of hard-won wisdom and stark pleasure in the form of 500 lyrical aphorisms and epigrams.’
    • ‘Ethics was about obligations to other people, expressed in aphorisms such as ‘do as you would be done by’.’
    • ‘We all know the old aphorism that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.’
    • ‘This pithy aphorism graphically tells us the sad state of affairs on the roads of India.’
    • ‘Americans of a certain age will recall Douglas MacArthur's pithy aphorism: ‘There is no substitute for victory.’’
    • ‘Of those numbers we are obliged to say they confirm the truth in the Disraeli aphorism, ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’’
    proverb, maxim, axiom, adage, saw, tag, motto, precept, epigram, epigraph, dictum, gnome, pearl of wisdom
    saying, maxim, axiom, adage, precept, epigram, epigraph, dictum, gnome, pearl of wisdom, proverb, saw, tag, motto
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    1. 1.1 A concise statement of a scientific principle, typically by an ancient classical author.
      • ‘His eighth chapter - reproduced on this site from the Levy-Cantera translation - contained 120 aphorisms and generalizations on astrology, highly relevant for the art of horary.’
      • ‘There is no connection with the Vedas, and virtually no mathematical usefulness in these aphorisms.’


Early 16th century: from French aphorisme or late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos ‘definition’, from aphorizein ‘define’.