What is an Aphorism? Definitions and Examples of Aphorism

Aphorism definition: Aphorisms are statements that present a moral or philosophical idea.

What is an Aphorism?

What does aphorism mean? An aphorism is a pithy statement or observation that conveys a general truth about the world.

Writers often create general statements in their texts in order to convey a moral or philosophical idea they hold to be universally true.

Examples of Aphorisms:

  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • He who hesitates is lost.
  • Easy come, easy go.
  • The early bird gets the worm.
  • “ ‘Tis better to have loved and lost/ than never to have loved at all.” –Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Modern Examples of Aphorism

what is aphorismHere are some additional examples of aphorisms with explanations regarding their messages:      

  • All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

This statement is used to emphasis the necessary balance between work and leisure. If all we do is work, it’s more difficult to maintain an interesting personality.

  • Forgive and forget.

This statement reminds us that when we are wronged it is important to forgive the offender and move on with life.

The Purpose of An Aphorism

The purpose of an aphorism is to convey a message to people that is generally regarded as a universal moral or truth.

Therefore, when creating an aphorism, it is important to identify your audience and the purpose of your writing in order to convey an appropriate message.

Examples of Aphorism in Literature

aphorism literary definitionHow are aphorisms used in literature? Aphorisms are widely found in literature. In fact, many aphorisms used in literature break through their literary use and become relevant in their own sense, apart from the original work in which they appeared.

Many are used in everyday conversation due to their catchy and witty word choice.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, she expresses her message regarding ignorance through this commonly quoted line:

  • 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.

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, he expresses that names are meaningless and do not predetermine a person or thing’s traits through Juliet’s line:

  • What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other word would smell as sweet.

Summary: What are Aphorisms?

Define aphorism: Aphorisms are general, often witty, statements that present a moral or philosophical idea. These are present in common phrases as well as in well-known literature.

Here a couple of final examples:

  • Common statement: a penny saved is a penny earned.

This aphorism is used to convey the importance of frugality.

From Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange,

  • “A man who cannot choose ceases to be a man.”

This aphorism is used to emphasize the importance of free will.