The word aphorism (literally "distinction" or "definition", from the Greek: ἀφορισμός, aphorismós ap-horizein "from-to bound") denotes an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and easily memorable form. The genre is also known as "maxim".
The name was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates later to other sententious statements of physical science and later still to statements of all kinds of philosophical, moral or literary principles.
The Aphorisms of Hippocrates were one of the earliest collections, although the earlier Book of Proverbs is similar. Hippocrates includes such notable and often invoked phrases as:"Life is short, [the] art long, opportunity fleeting, experience misleading, judgment difficult. The physician must be prepared not only to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, attendants, and externals co-operate."
Aphoristic collections, sometimes known as wisdom literature, have a prominent place in the canons of several ancient societies: E.g. 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 Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Montaigne, La Rouchefoucauld, Thomas Szasz, Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, Mikhail Turovsky, 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 François de La Rochefoucauld and Blaise Pascal.
Usually an aphorism is a concise statement containing a subjective truth or observation cleverly and pithily written. Aphorisms can be both prosaic or poetic, sometimes they have repeated words or phrases, and sometimes they have two parts that are of the same grammatical structure. Some examples include:
In a number of cultures, such as 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.
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 (e.g. Zaphod Beeblebrox saying "Right now I need aphorisms like I need holes in my heads"). Aphorisms being misquoted by sports players, coaches, and commentators form the basis of Private Eye's Colemanballs section.
An aphorist is someone who produces or collects aphorisms. Famous aphorists include:
A proverb (from the Latin proverbium) is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and reversed, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim. If a proverb is distinguished by particularly good phrasing, it may be known as an aphorism.
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APHORISM (from the Gr. ?u oA'ECv, to define), literally a distinction or a definition, a term used to describe a principle expressed tersely in a few telling words or any general truth conveyed in a short and pithy sentence, in such a way that when once heard it is unlikely to pass from the memory. The name was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, a long series of propositions concerning the symptoms and diagnosis of disease and the art of healing and medicine. The term came to be applied later to other sententious statements of physical science, and later still to statements of all kinds of principles. Care must be taken not to confound aphorisms with axioms. Aphorisms came into being as the result of experience, whereas axioms are self-evident truths, requiring no proof, and appertain to pure reason. Aphorisms have been especially used in dealing with subjects to which no methodical or scientific treatment was applied till late, such as art, agriculture, medicine, jurisprudence and politics. The Aphorisms of Hippocrates form far the most celebrated as well as the earliest collection of the kind, and it may be interesting to quote a few examples. "Old men support abstinence well: people of a ripe age less well: young folk badly, and children less well than all the rest, particularly those of them who are very lively." "Those who are very fat by nature are more exposed to die suddenly than those who are thin." "Those who eject foaming blood, eject it from the lung." "When two illnesses arrive at the same time, the stronger silences the weaker." The first aphorism, perhaps the best known of all, which serves as a kind of introduction to the book, runs as follows: - "Life is short, art is long, opportunity fugitive, experimenting dangerous, reasoning difficult: it is necessary not only to do oneself what is right, but also to be seconded by the patient, by those who attend him, by external circumstances." Another famous collection of aphorisms is that of the school of Salerno in Latin verse, in which Joannes de Meditano, one of the most celebrated doctors of the school of medicine of Salerno, has summed up the precepts of this school. The book was dedicated to a king of England. It is a disputed point as to which king, some authorities dating the publication as at 1066, others assigning a later date. The dedication gives the following excellent advice: "Anglorum regi scribit schola tota Salernae.
Si vis incolumem, si vis to reddere sanum, Curas tolle graves: irasci crede profanum: Parce mero: coenato parum; non sit tibi vanum Surgere post epulas: somnum fuge meridianum: Ne mictum retine, nec comprime fortiter anum: Haec bene si serves, to longo tempore vives." Another collection of aphorisms, also medical and also in Latin, is that of the Dutchman Hermann Boerhaave, published at Leiden in the year 1709; it gives a terse summary of the medical knowledge prevailing at the time, and is of great interest to the student of the history of medicine.