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I’m by no means alone in this impulse: the tradition of the commonplace book—a notebook of sorts filled with proverbs, aphorisms, maxims, and other ephemera—dates back centuries. Somewhere along the line, though, I started getting skeptical of aphorisms—perhaps when I realized what they really were.The definition of “aphorism” has shifted over time, from Hippocrates’ original use of the term in the fifth century BC to describe brief medical teachings to our current understanding, encapsulated by the Oxford English Dictionary: “Any principle or precept expressed in few words; a short pithy sentence containing a truth of general import; a maxim.” Though that’s not quite right, either—as John Gross explains in the introduction to , an aphorism is different than a maxim, because a maxim calls to mind “something waiting to be trotted out in the spirit of Polonius,” whereas an aphorism is “distinctly more subversive.” Gross also adds that “the most obvious characteristic of an aphorism, apart from its brevity, is that it is a generalization. Love till it hurts, love till it kills you and love everyday till you lay in your grave.” The idea that such phrases could apply universally, that they represented truth with a capital T, seemed lazy, even harmful.It offers a comment on some recurrent aspect of life, couched in terms that are meant to be permanently and universally applicable.” This straining toward permanence and over-generalization caused me to chafe against aphorisms, to roll my eyes at the (often unattributed) aphoristic quotes I continue to see posted all over Instagram, like this one from the Insta-poet R. Turning to such concise phrases for advice or comfort can lead to a dead end: a repetition of one static interpretation that serves only to self-soothe.
I had developed a habit of squirelling away quotes from books and songs and movies, scribbling them in notebooks and on the front of my school binders.
I was particularly enamored with lines from the movie (“All morons hate it when you call them a moron”).
This was the age of AIM profiles, of defining yourself with a pithy, profound phrase, and I switched out my quotes on a near-daily basis.
I loved pulling what I saw as wisdom out of context—it was a comfort to have these nuggets of universal truth to turn to, to repeat like little incantations in my head. Lovecraft has kept a commonplace book; Grandpa Jack jotted down Latin phrases and bits of wisdom in a datebook from the insurance company he worked for.
Take two kids, for example, who have been best friends since the first grade.
Later in high school, one of the two friends is heading downhill with their life.
Aphorisms "Aphorism - a brief statement of truth." This is the dictionary definition of an aphorism.
I see an aphorism as a quote that you can relate to personally. But is an aphorism always a fact, or is it sometimes an opinion too?
Writing good aphorisms may be the most difficult task for any writer – that’s probably why so few writers do it these days!
But the best way to practice writing aphorisms is to start by -writing aphorisms that already exist.