Aphorism (sententia)

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Aphorism (sententia)

Aphorism (sententia): A concise, pointed, epigrammatic statement that purports to reveal a truth or principle. Aphorisms can be attributed to a specific person. When a statement is so generally known that authorship is lost, it is called a proverb rather than an aphorism. A statement that gives behavioral advice rather than simply revealing a truth or principle is called a maxim.

EXAMPLES: Aphorisms include “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (William Shakespeare), “No man is a hero to his valet” (La Rochefoucauld), “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (John Keats), “Mistrust first impulses; they are always good” (Charles Talleyrand), “All you need is love” (the Beatles), and “Life is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get” (Forrest Gump [1994]).

Proverbs include “Still waters run deep,” “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same” (Chinese), “A sandal is not a shoe; a cap is not a turban” (Afghan), “It takes a whole village to raise a child” (Nigerian), and “An ember burns where it falls” (Turkish).

“A stitch in time saves nine” is a maxim, as are “The early bird gets the worm” and “The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”