Aphorism


Aphorism

An aphorism (literally "distinction" or "definition", from Greek ἀφορισμός (aphorismós), from ἀπό (apo) and ὁρίζειν (horizein), meaning "from/to bound") is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form.[1]

The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates. The oft-cited first sentence of this work (see Ars longa, vita brevis) is:

"Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult."

The term was later applied to maxims of physical science, then statements of all kinds of philosophical, moral, or literary principles. In modern usage an aphorism is generally understood to be a concise statement containing a subjective truth or observation cleverly and pithily written.

Contents

Literature

Aphoristic collections, sometimes known as wisdom literature, have a prominent place in the canons of several ancient societies, such as the Sutra literature of India, the Biblical Ecclesiastes, Islamic Hadith, Hesiod's Works and Days, or Epictetus' Handbook. Aphoristic collections also make up an important part of the work of some modern authors, such as Josemaría Escrivá (compiled from other spiritual authors), Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Montaigne, La Rouchefoucauld, Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, Andrzej Majewski, Mikhail Turovsky, Antonio Porchia, Celia Green, Robert A. Heinlein, Blaise Pascal, E. M. Cioran and Oscar Wilde. A 1559 oil–on–oak-panel painting, Netherlandish Proverbs (also called The Blue Cloak or The Topsy Turvy World) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, artfully depicts a land populated with literal renditions of Flemish aphorisms (proverbs) of the day.

The aphoristic genre developed together with literacy, and after the invention of printing, aphorisms were collected and published in book form. The first noted published collection of aphorisms is Adagia by Erasmus of Rotterdam. Other important early aphorists were Baltasar Gracián, François de La Rochefoucauld and Blaise Pascal.

Two influential collections of aphorisms published in the 20th century were The Uncombed Thoughts by Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (in Polish), and Itch of Wisdom by Mikhail Turovsky (in Russian and English).[2]

Society

In many cultures, including Samuel Johnson's England, many East and Southeast Asian societies, and throughout the world, the ability to spontaneously produce aphoristic sayings at exactly the right moment is a key determinant of social status. Many societies have traditional sages or culture heroes to whom aphorisms are commonly attributed, such as the Seven Sages of Greece, Confucius or King Solomon.

Misquoted or misadvised aphorisms are frequently used as a source of humour; for instance, wordplays of aphorisms appear in the works of P. G. Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Aphorisms being misquoted by sports players, coaches, and commentators form the basis of Private Eye's Colemanballs section.

See also

References


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  • aphorism — (n.) 1520s (especially in reference to the Aphorisms of Hippocrates ), from M.Fr. aphorisme (14c., aufforisme), from L.L. aphorismus, from Gk. aphorismos definition, pithy sentence, from aphorizein to mark off, divide, from apo from (see APO (Cf …   Etymology dictionary

  • Aphorism — Aph o*rism, n. [F. aphorisme, fr. Gr. ? definition, a short, pithy sentence, fr. ? to mark off by boundaries, to define; ? from + ? to separate, part. See {Horizon}.] A comprehensive maxim or principle expressed in a few words; a sharply defined… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • aphorism — index maxim, phrase Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • aphorism — apothegm, epigram, *saying, saw, maxim, adage, proverb, motto …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • aphorism — [n] saying expressing a belief, often true adage, apothegm, axiom, dictum, maxim, moral, precept, proverb, rule, saw, saying, truism; concepts 275,278,689 …   New thesaurus

  • aphorism — ► NOUN ▪ a concise witty remark which contains a general truth. DERIVATIVES aphoristic adjective. ORIGIN Greek aphorismos definition …   English terms dictionary

  • aphorism — [af′ə riz΄əm] n. [< OFr & ML: OFr aufforisme < ML aphorismus < LGr aphorismos < Gr, a distinction, determination < aphorizein, to divide, mark off < apo , from + horizein, to bound: see HORIZON] 1. a short, concise statement of… …   English World dictionary

  • aphorism — UK [ˈæfəˌrɪz(ə)m] / US [ˈæfəˌrɪzəm] noun [countable] Word forms aphorism : singular aphorism plural aphorisms a short statement that says something wise and true …   English dictionary

  • aphorism — noun Etymology: Middle French aphorisme, from Late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos definition, aphorism, from aphorizein to define, from apo + horizein to bound more at horizon Date: 1528 1. a concise statement of a principle …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • aphorism — aphorismic, aphorismatic /af euh riz mat ik/, adj. /af euh riz euhm/, n. a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation, as Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton). [1520 30; F aphorisme < LL… …   Universalium


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