Aphorism is a statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner. The term is often applied to philosophical, moral, and literary principles.
To qualify as an aphorism, it is necessary for a statement to contain a truth revealed in a terse manner. Aphoristic statements are quoted in writings, as well as in our daily speech. The fact that they contain a truth gives them a universal acceptance. Scores of philosophers, politicians, writers, artists, sportsmen, and other individuals are remembered for their famous aphoristic statements.
Aphorisms often come with a pinch of humor, which makes them more appealing to the masses. Proverbs, maxims, adages, and clichés are different forms of aphoristic statements that gain prevalence from generation to generation and frequently appear in our day-to-day speech.
Common Aphorism Examples
Let us look at some common aphorism examples:
- Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old age regret. [Benjamin Disraeli]
- Pride goeth before a fall. [Proverb]
- The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. [William Faulkner]
- Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late. [Benjamin Franklin]
- Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream. [Khalil Gibran]
- The simplest questions are the hardest to answer. [Northrop Frye]
- …even a proverb is no proverb until your life has illustrated it. [John Keats]
- Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. [Rudyard Kipling]
Examples of Aphorism in Literature
Many pieces of literature are appreciated for the aphorisms they contain, which are often cited by scholars as well as laymen. Below are some examples of aphorisms in literature:
Example #1: Various Works (By Sir Francis Bacon)
Sir Francis Bacon excels in the aphoristic style of writing. Possibly, his sayings are the most quoted of all. Consider the following examples:
- “Studies serve for delight, for ornament and for ability.” (Of Studies)
- “To use too many circumstances, ere one come to the matter, is wearisome, to use none at all, is Blunt.” (Of Discourse)
- “Praise is the reflection of the virtue. But it is the reflection glass or body which giveth the reflection.” (Of Praise)
Example #2: Various Works (By William Shakespeare)
William Shakespeare does not fall behind any writer in the use of aphorisms in his plays. The use of abundant aphorisms testifies to his keen insight and judgment. Below are some examples:
- “Having nothing, nothing can he lose.” (Henry VI)
- “Life is a tale told by an idiot – full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth)
- “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Example #3: To Kill a Mocking Bird (By Harper Lee)
An example of aphorism can be seen in To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch tells her daughter:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
The above statement holds truth, as we cannot claim to judge a person unless we understand the way he views the world and its affairs.
Example #4: The Writing on My Forehead (By Nafisa Haji)
Nafisa Haji provides us an example of aphorism in her novel The Writing on My Forehead. Big Namina, a wise character, says:
“If? There is no if. There is only what is. What was? What will be.”
We can perceive the truth in the above statement because it gives a message to always live in the moment. It tells us that it is useless to have regrets about the past, and we should move on with our lives for a better present and future.
Example #5: Various Works (By Alexander Pope)
Alexander Pope was a great aphorist of the 18th century. Following are some memorable quotes from his works:
- “‘Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.” (Golden Treasury of the Familiar)
- “To err is human, to forgive divine.” (An Essay on Criticism)
- “What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone.” (Essay on Man and Other Poems)
- “Act well your part; there all the honour lies.” (An Essay on Man)
Function of Aphorism
As already mentioned in the above discussion, making use of aphorisms allows a writer to teach a philosophical or moral truth. The revealed truths prove relevant to human experiences of real life. Therefore, readers relate the piece of literature to real life, and become more fascinated and vigilant in their reading.
Moreover, as truths are universal, revealing general truths in literature adds to their universal commendation. Motivational speeches quote aphorisms from such sources to inspire motivation among individuals.
An aphorism is a brief sentence or phrase that expresses an opinion or makes a statement of wisdom. Spoken or written, aphorism literally means “definition” and the term was first coined by Hippocrates in his work entitled Aphorisms.
Examples of Aphorisms
- A bad penny always turns up.
- A barking dog never bites.
- A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
- Actions speak louder than words.
- All for one and one for all.
- All that glitters is not gold.
- All the world's a stage.
- All things come to he who waits.
- All we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.
- All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- Children should be seen and not heard.
- Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes.
- Don't foul your own nest.
- Don't give up the ship.
- Don't hide your light under a bushel.
- Don't judge a book by its cover.
- Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom.
- Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
- Easier said than done.
- East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.
- East or West, home is best.
- Easy come, easy go.
- Eat to live, don't live to eat.
- Forgive and forget.
- Forgive them, for they know not what they do.
- Frailty, thy name is woman!
- From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.
- Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
- Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.
- Give a man a fish and he eats for one night. Teach him how and he eats for life.
- Give him an inch and he'll take a mile.
- Give him enough rope and he'll hang himself.
- He that is not with me is against me.
- He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.
- He who hesitates is lost.
- Here today, gone tomorrow.
- History repeats itself.
- If you do what you've always done you'll get what you've always got.
- If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.
- If you snooze, you lose.
- Ignorance is bliss.
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.
- Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
- Keep your head above water.
- Keep your nose to the grindstone.
- Keep your powder dry.
- Know thyself.
- Know which side your bread is buttered on.
- Knowledge is power.
- Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.
- Life is short, art is long.
- Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
- Little pitchers have big ears.
- Little strokes fell great oaks.
- Live and learn.
- Nothing succeeds like success.
- Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Oil and water don't mix.
- Old habits die hard.
- Once bitten, twice shy.
- Opportunity never knocks twice.
- Opposites attract.
- Out of sight, out of mind.
- People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
- Politics makes strange bedfellows.
- Possession is nine-tenths of the law.
- The more things change, the more they stay the same.
- The pen is mightier than sword.
- The quality of mercy is not strained.
- The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
- The race isn't always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
- While there's life, there's hope.
- Who pays the piper calls the tune.
- Winners never quit and quitters never win.
- You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
- You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
- You can kill a man but you can't kill an idea.
- You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
- You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy.
- You can't fight city hall.
- You get what you pay for.
- You have to take the bitter with the sweet.
- You have to take the good with the bad.
- You made your bed, now lie in it.
- You need to stop to smell the roses.
- You need to take a bull by the horns, and a man by his word.
- You're never too old to learn.
These examples show how an aphorism can be used to express an opinion in a fun way or to give a piece of wisdom in a way that will be meaningful.