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Aphorisms are reams of wisdom packed into little sayings. They come in handy during meetings and speeches. Here’s a little sampling:
Ruling a large kingdom is like cooking a small fish; the less handled the better.
Consciousness of our strength increases it.
Trust in God but tie your camel.
Five laws of aphorisms:
They must be brief.
If “brevity is the soul of wit,” as William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, then brevity also applies to aphorisms and their intended use as a means of emphasis in times of triumph or crisis. Example: “Short prayer penetrates heaven.”
They must be definitive.
Samuel Johnson, the great English lexicographer, was highly unpleasant and dogmatic. But somebody who compiles a dictionary needs to be dogmatic. Definitions, like aphorisms, must be definitive. Example: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
They have to be personal.
Two great minds, G.K. Chesterton and Holbrook Johnson, once performed a duel of aphorisms consisting of Johnson’s book Platitudes in the Making and Chesterton’s penciled-in replies. A couple of them: “He who reasons is lost,” followed by “He who never reasons is not worth finding.” And “Don’t think—do,” followed by “Do think! Do!”
They have a twist.
Aphorisms need to be provocative. Example: “As long as the heart preserves desire, the mind preserves illusion.”
“Aphorisms are literature’s hand luggage,” says aphorism collector James Geary. “Light and compact, they fit easily into the overhead compartment of your brain and contain everything you need to get through a rough day at the office or a dark night of the soul.”
—Adapted from The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism, James Geary, Bloomsbury.