• aphorism •
Pronunciation: æ-fê-riz-êm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A pithy adage, a terse statement of a believed truth.
Notes: Oscar Wilde was an aphorist nonpareil. He constantly created amusing aphoristic phrases like, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." "Work is the curse of the drinking classes," is not a spoonerism, as sometimes thought, but yet another Wilde aphorism. The adjective is aphoristic and one can talk aphoristically.
In Play: Much of our lives and many of our attitudes are determined by aphorisms. It was not an American but the French writer Voltaire who originally said, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it." Englishman Edmund Burke alerted us to the conditions for evil with, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Finally, Benjamin Franklin who warned us, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Word History: Today's Good Word came to us through French from Late Latin aphorismus, a word borrowed from Greek aphorismos. Aphorismos is the noun of aphorizein "to delimit, define". This verb is made up of apo- "(up)on" + horizein "to demarcate, define". As you might have guessed, the verb horizein also lies at the bottom of Greek horizon, the word referring to the boundary between the sky and earth, which English also borrowed, directly from Greek.