Aphorisms and Thesauri

What’s the difference between an aphorism and a proverb?

When I used what I assumed was an aphorism in the last post, I wasn’t sure, so I investigated.


Definition of aphorism 

1: a concise statement of a principle
2: terse formulation of a truth or sentiment ADAGEthe high-minded aphorism, “Let us value the quality of life, not the quantity”

Merriam Webster

Okay so far. Definition #3 gets technical:


3: an ingeniously terse style of expression aphoristic language. “These are dazzling chapters, packed with perfectly chosen anecdotes and pithy with aphorism.”

Merriam Webster

I wish some reviewer would review my books with that description, but I can’t honestly claim that style of writing.

Are two words synonyms? A simple old-fashioned way to check is with a thesaurus. I use Roget’s “New Edition” of 1873, which I inherited from Cousin Mabel, whose parents must have purchased the book because she was born in 1873 . It threatens to fall apart, the headings are obtuse, and I can’t read the index without a magnifying glass, but it’s a familiar friend.

You don’t have to inherit a copy of Roget–numerous editions have been published in this century, plus electronic editions.

Synonyms for “aphorism,” per Roget of 1873, are: “maxim, apothogm, dictum, saying, adage, saw, proverb, sentence, precept, rule, formula, code, motto, word, byword, moral, sentiment, phylactery, conclusion, reflection, thought, golden rule, protasis, axiom, theorem, scholium, truism. ” If you don’t know how to use some of those in a sentence, ignore them, because your readers won’t recognize them–neither do I.

Note that a synonym is not the the same as a substitute. There are nuances of meaning. Thesauruses (thesauri is also a correct plural–I had to check that out) are not always as exhaustive–or maybe exhausting–as my antique one, but I find the long, micro-print list fun.

Explore the 21-st century editions and variations of thesaurus on Amazon:

No reviews from me for those; explore them (and more) on line or in a bookstore.

One more description–I can’t call it a definition–of aphorism, if you can wrap your mind around it.

Been there? Done that? Read the book? What do you think?