Aphorism is an author's expression of a deep thought in a concise, refined manner that is used to convey an opinion or a universal truth.
An aphorism is considered to be efficient if it fits into no more than two sentences. The more concise the form, the easier it is for people to memorize it and use in real life. However, aphorisms aren't valued for their shortness, but rather for the emotional and thought-provoking reaction they get from the reader.
The term itself has derived from the Ancient Greek word "aphorismos," which can be translated as "short expression" or "definition." This tool dates back to the times of Antiquity, as there are hundreds of aphorisms recorded by Greek and Asian philosophers.
This literary device is commonly confused with a proverb. In their essence, both these tools share the same function of conveying wisdom with a single phrase, but there is one fundamental distinction between them. A proverb is a short saying with a teaching or enlightening message of unknown origin. Most aphorisms, on the other hand, have a specific author responsible for their creation.
Aphorisms cover all aspects of human existence. Logically, it's easy to find sayings dedicated to subjects of love, art, science, faith, war, etc. Even more so, due to the dualistic nature of most concepts, it's possible to find aphorisms that make contradicting statements that can both seem true to an individual, depending on his or her worldview.
The primary purpose of this tool is to convey the author's opinion or thoughts about a specific idea. Usually, aphoristic phrases express universal truths that are recognized by almost everyone. However, there are also cases when an aphorism is exclusively applicable to a particular time period, movement, or society. In this scenario, only the people who are familiar with relevant realities can appreciate the value behind such a saying.
Thanks to this literary device, it's easy to see which values and issues were thought to be the most important or controversial in different time periods, societies and countries.
While in its form an aphorism is a finished thought, one of its main functions is to encourage the reader to develop his or her own view on the subject in question. The reader might either agree or disagree with the statement or create a unique interpretation of the described concept.
Aphorisms play an important role in everyday situations as well. Thus, they allow people to express their opinion about a certain situation or issue more precisely. Such sayings are also used to give life advice to others.
Individuals that use this rhetoric tool in conversations are usually considered to be of high intelligence and erudition. However, it's vital not to overuse this device. Otherwise, one might end up sounding pretentious or appear not to have his own original thoughts.
The last few decades have witnessed the rise of popularity of this tool. Aphorisms are frequently used in fictional works and journalistic pieces. The latter feature sayings that are relevant to the topic of the article. Aphorisms are also commonly used as "status updates" on all sorts of social media websites.
Aphorisms are directly linked to literary works. Firstly, they represent a separate small form genre. Secondly, most of the sayings that are used as epigraphs or "status updates" are quoted from various novels, short stories, and poems. For example, "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know" has originated from E. Hemingway's "The Garden of Eden."
In most cases, aphorisms aren't created deliberately. In the process of writing, a writer expresses a thought in the deepest and most precise way possible, and it is up to the reader to decide whether it will spread. However, there are also authors that created aphoristic sayings as a genre. A prime example of such a writer is Francois de La Rochefoucauld, who wrote phrases like "We are more interested in making others believe we are happy than in trying to be happy ourselves."
Other writers that excelled in creating aphorisms include Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. This device is also frequently found in philosophical works. For instance, Voltaire writes: "Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do."
An aphorism doesn't necessarily have to deal with serious issues, as it can provide a comedic effect as well. The example of the latter can be found in the works of Oscar Wilde: "Beware of women who do not hide their age. A woman who reveals her age is capable of anything."
Aphorisms aren't only created by writers, but by singers, actors, athletes, and other kinds of influential people as well. For instance, "Dress shabbily, and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably and they remember the woman" by Coco Chanel.