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[af-uh-riz-uh m] /ˈæf əˌrɪz əm/
a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation, as “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton).
Origin of aphorism
1520-30; French aphorisme < Late Latin aphorismus < Greek aphorismós definition, equivalent to aphor(ízein) to define (see aphorize) + -ismos -ism
Related forms
aphorismic, aphorismatic
[af-uh-riz-mat-ik] /ˌæf ə rɪzˈmæt ɪk/ (Show IPA),
Can be confused
adage, aphorism, apothegm, axiom, maxim, proverb. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for aphorism
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • This aphorism seemed to merit a new cigar on Crane's part, so he lighted one.

    Thoroughbreds W. A. Fraser
  • When you have thoroughly digested this aphorism, you are fit to start in the world.

    Lord Kilgobbin Charles Lever
  • Pleasurably, for a moment, he considered the altruism of that aphorism.

    The Paliser case Edgar Saltus
  • His aphorism was, "Gentlemen, the secret of surgery is the nailbrush."

    A Labrador Doctor

    Wilfred Thomason Grenfell
  • His uncle uttered an aphorism: "The throne is a board covered with velvet."

    Napoleon the Little Victor Hugo
British Dictionary definitions for aphorism


a short pithy saying expressing a general truth; maxim
Derived Forms
aphorist, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos definition, from aphorizein to define, set limits to, from horos boundary
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for aphorism

1520s (especially in reference to the "Aphorisms of Hippocrates"), from Middle French aphorisme (14c., aufforisme), from Late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos "definition, pithy sentence," from aphorizein "to mark off, divide," from apo- "from" (see apo-) + horizein "to bound" (see horizon).

An aphorism is a short, pithy statement containing a truth of general import; an axiom is a statement of self-evident truth; a theorem is a demonstrable proposition in science or mathematics; an epigram is like an aphorism, but lacking in general import. Maxim and saying can be used as synonyms for aphorism.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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aphorism in Culture
aphorism [(af-uh-riz-uhm)]

A concise and often witty statement of wisdom or opinion, such as “Children should be seen and not heard,” or “People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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