This week’s word is a fun one. Although the word itself is not one you’re likely to use often, it refers to something you’ve met quite a bit and will hopefully go onto meet some more—that is, the aphorism (AFF’or’iz’m).
And what, exactly, is an aphorism? It’s anything short and sweet that says a lot! It’s a terse expression of truth or strong opinion that is often witty and so logically concrete (or potently expressive of one’s view) that refutation is difficult.
Example is certainly the best way to understand what an aphorism is. You’ve doubtless heard, for example, that a mind is like a parachute and works best only when open. Or perhaps someone’s told you that the heaviest thing you can carry is a grudge.
Aphorisms cover an enormous range of subjects—in fact, they can be derived from anything at all. Winston Churchill is famous for his piggy aphorism: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” Note that he’s not just talking about animals; he’s subtly (or not so subtly) making a comment on the elevation of humans’ ranking in the greater hierarchy of animals.
One of the most popular uses for aphorisms is in embodying an experience we can almost all relate to, or expressing something one can easily empathize with far better than it might otherwise be expressed—humble little truths about life, things learned the hard way. Consider, for example, “Experience is something you never have until just after you need it” (anonymous).
A healthy portion of aphorisms entail cautions or advise. Consider Andrew Diaz’s “Always looking on the bright side of things will cause irreversible damage to the eye” or “A sharp tongue can cut your own throat” (anonymous) or “The ten commandments are not multiple choice” (anonymous).
Now that you know what aphorisms are, we’ll close with a few of the best. These are some great, brief, thought-provoking words. The first two—which you may have heard before—are from the same poem:
“All that is gold does not glitter.” – J. R. R. Tolkein.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkein.
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” – Plato
“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” – Billy Sunday
“Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.” (unknown)
“War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who’s left.” – Bertrand Russell
“Sarcasm helps keep you from telling people what you really think of them.” (unknown)
“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.” – Dennis Wholey
The last two are from Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry:
“People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.”
“Never under any circumstances take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night!”
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mark Jacobs. Mark is the Jet Fuel Review’s prose editor. He is an Aviation major, but the left side of his brain is an avid writer. Mark is a junior and works a few hours a week as a tutor in the Writing Center.