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Aphorisms or "Universal Truths"

(165 entries, updated January, 2009)

This is one of the harder collections to describe. What is an aphorism exactly? In simplest terms it is oberservation about life, briefly told, that is true 'more often than not'. It may even be something that is always true, a 'universal' truth. Many aphorisms have that particular feeling of being a fact you can't get away from. A good example is Winston Churchill's statement that "Success is never final" - which, like many proverbs or maxims, both states a truth and gives a warning - one that contestants and combatants of all sorts should pay heed.

As I said, an aphorisms is usually brief or concise (perhaps even 'terse'). Somewhat wordier observations can be found in the Wisdom collection. Aphorisms also frequently 'clever' or humorous. For this reason, you might amusingly observe that it is not such a great leap from aphorism to sarcasm (although the road back might be a long one.


     - A -

  1. It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.

  2. We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.

  3. Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.

  4. If you don't have time to do it right you must have time to do it over.

  5. You cannot teach a crab to walk straight.

  6. The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.

  7. Nature does nothing uselessly.

  8. A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.

  9. Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
       Berthold Auerbach

  10.  - B -

  11. Nostalgia is a seductive liar.
       George W. Ball

  12. The more you judge, the less you love.
       Honore de Balzac

  13. Passion is born deaf and dumb.
       Honore de Balzac

  14. Memory is the greatest of artists, and effaces from your mind what is unnecessary.
        Maurice Baring

  15. Half the work that is done in the world is to make things appear what they are not.
       E.R. Beadle

  16. Good semse about trivialities is better than nonsense about things that matter.
       Max Beerbohm

  17. Brevity is power.
       Josh Billings

  18. The rarest thing a man ever duz iz the best he can. [sic]
       Josh Billings

  19. Love looks through a telescope; envy through a microscope.
       Josh Billings

  20. Advice is like castor oil, easy enough to give but dreadful uneasy to take.
       Josh Billings

  21. What is now proved was once only imagined.
       William Blake

  22. Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.
       Napoleon Bonaparte

  23. What you really value is what you miss, not what you have.
       Jorge Luis Borges

  24. My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants.
       J. Brotherton

  25. Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

  26. The course of true anything does not run smooth.
       Samuel Butler

  27.  - C -

  28. An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes.
       Cato The Elder

  29. We live in a rainbow of Chaos.
       Paul Cezanne

  30. Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
       Dale Carnegie

  31. In some cases, non-violence requires more militancy than violence.
       Cesar Chavez

  32. When a lot of remedies are suggested for a disease, that means it cannot be cured.
       Anton Chekhov

  33. The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.
      --G. K. Chesterton

  34. A closed mind is like a closed book: just a block of wood.
      --Chinese Proverb

  35. It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.
      --Agatha Christie

  36. Success is never final.
       Winston Churchill

  37. Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
      --Winston Churchill

  38. A bridge has no allegiance to eithr side.
       Les Coleman

  39. By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

  40. When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it--this is knowledge.

  41. Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors.

  42. History is a vast early warning system.
       Norman Cousins

  43. A good book has no ending.
       R.D. Cumming

  44.  - D -

  45. Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old Age a regret.
       Benjamin Disraeli

  46. There is an art of reading, as well as an art of thinking, and an art of writing.
       Isaac Disraeli

  47. Our deeds follow us, and what we have been makes us what we are.
       John Dykes

  48.  - E -

  49. The environment is everything that isn't me.
       Albert Einstein

  50. Imagination is a poor substitute for experience.
       Havelock Ellis

  51. The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.
       Ralph Waldo Emerson

  52. So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the path of each man's genius contracts itself to a very few hours.
       Ralph Waldo Emerson

  53. It is impossible for a man to be cheated by anyone but himself.
       Ralph Waldo Emerson

  54. He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare,
    And he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere.
       Ralph Waldo Emerson

  55. The education of the will is the object of our existence.
       Ralph Waldo Emerson

  56. Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

  57. Time will explain it all. He is a talker, and needs no questioning before he speaks.

  58.  - F -

  59. The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.
       William Faulkner

  60. The voice is a second signature.
       R. I. Fitzhenry

  61. The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.
       Malcom Forbes

  62. Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
       Benjamin Franklin

  63. Life's Tragedy is that we get old to soon and wise too late.
       Benjamin Franklin

  64. The simplest questions are the hardest to answer.
       Northrop Frye

  65.  - G -

  66. Yesterday is but today's memory, and tomorrow is today's dream.
       Kahlil Gibran

  67. Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
       Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet

  68. The impossible is often the untried.
       Jim Goodwin

  69.  - H -

  70. There is only one way to come into this world; there are too many ways to leave it.
       Donald Harington

  71. Man is a make-believe animal - he is never so truly himself as when he is acting a part.
       William Hazlitt

  72. All good work is done the way ants do things, Little by little.
       Lafcadio Hearn

  73. My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
       Ernest Hemingway

  74. Nothing endures but change.

  75. You must lose a fly to catch a trout.
       George Herbert

  76. Hope is the poor man's bread.
       George Herbert

  77. Great deeds are usually wrought at great risk.

  78. We know how to speak many falsehoods that resemble real things, but we know, when we will, how to speak true things.

  79. Fame usually comes to those who are thinking about something else.
       Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

  80. Hunger is not debatable.
       Harry Hopkins

  81. Multa ferunt anni venientes commoda secum, Multa recedentes adimiunt.
    (The years, as they come, bring many agreeable things with them; as they go, they take many away.)
       Horace, from Ars Poetica

  82. Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio.
    (When I labor to be brief, I become obscure.)
       Horace, from Ars Poetica

  83. A good scare is worth more to a man than good advice.
       Edgar Watson Howe

  84.  - J -

  85. Deep experience is never peaceful.
       Henry James

  86. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.
       William James

  87. Luxury is more deadly than any foe.

  88.  - K -

  89. From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned.
       Immanuel Kant

  90. A proverb is no proverb to you till life has illustrated it.
       John Keats

  91. My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.
       Clarence Buddinton Kelland

  92. Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
       Rudyard Kipling

  93. Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion.
       Arthur Koestler

  94. Often the search proves more profitable than the goal.
       E. L. Konigsburg

  95.  - L -

  96. There is a woman at the begining of all great things.
       Alphonse de Lamartine

  97. People, like nails, lose their effectiveness when they lose direction and begin to bend.
       Walter Savage Landor

  98. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
       Lao Tzu

  99. It is the Vague and Elusive.
  100. Meet it and you will not see its head.
  101. Follow it and you will not see its back.
       Lao Tzu

  102. One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach.
       Anne Morrow Lindbergh

  103. It takes less time to do a thing right, than it does to explain why you did it wrong.
       Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  104.  - M -

  105. Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.

  106. The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain.
       Karl Marx

  107. It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.
       Herman Melville

  108. We live, not as we wish to, but as we can.

  109. It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.
       H. L. Mencken

  110. That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in the next.
       John Stuart Mill

  111. You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way.
       Marvin Minsky

  112. How glorious it is -- and also how painful -- to be an exception.
       Alfred de Musset

  113.  - N -

  114. If you don't want to work, you have to work to earn enough money so that you won't have to work.
       Ogden Nash

  115. No one lies so boldly as the man who is indignant.
       Friederich Nietzsche

  116. There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.
       Friederich Nietzsche

  117. Some people will believe anything if you whisper it to them.
       Louis Nizer
  118. We are near waking when we dream we are dreaming.
       Friedrich Novalis

  119.  - P -

  120. What we obtain too cheap we esteem too little; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.
       Thomas Paine

  121. It is not good to be too free. It is not good to have everything one wants.
       Blaise Pascal

  122. In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.
       Louis Pasteur

  123. Every luxury must be paid for, and everything is a luxury, starting with being in the world.
       Cesare Pavese

  124. The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.
       Edward Phelps

  125. We always think every other man's job is easier than our own. The better he does it, the easier it looks.
       Eden Phillpotts

  126. The days that are still to come are the wisest witnesses.

  127. Not every truth is the better for showing its face undisguised; and often silence is the wisest thing for a man to heed.

  128. A catherdral, a wave of storm, a dancer's leap, never turn out to be as high as we had hoped.
       Marcel Proust

  129. Things don't change, but by and by our wishes change.
       Marcel Proust

  130.  - Q -

  131. However gradual the course of history, there must always be the day, even an hour and minute, when some significant action is performed for the first or last time.
        Peter Quennell

  132.  - R -

  133. It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.
       Agnes Repplier

  134. Nothing sways the stupid more than arguments they can't understand.
       Cardinal de Retz

  135. Every man has a rainy corner of his life whence comes foul weather which follows him.
       Jean Paul Richter

  136. We are never so happy or unhappy as we imagine.
       Francois duc la Rochefoucauld

  137. Not all those who know their minds know their hearts as well.
       Francois duc la Rochefoucauld

  138. Humor is, I think, the subtlest and chanciest of literary forms. It is surely not accidental that there are a thousand novelists, essayists, poets or journalists for each humorist. It is a long, long time between James Thurbers
       Leo Rosten

  139. Humor is the affectionate communication of insight.
       Leo Rosten

  140. Satire is focused bitterness.
       Leo Rosten

  141. Every writer is a narcissist. This does not mean that he is vain; it only means that he is hopelessly self-absorbed.
       Leo Rosten

  142. The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.
       Theodore Rubin

  143.  - S -

  144. Life is not a spectacle or a feast; it is a predicament.
       George Santayana

  145. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
       George Santayana

  146. Fanatacism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.
       George Santayana

  147. Maturity consists in no longer being taken in by oneself.
       Kajetan von Schlaggenberg

  148. Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.
       Arthur Schopenhauer

  149. Life is but a moment, death also is but another.
       Dr Robert Schuller

  150. The things hardest to bear are sweetest to remember.

  151. All art is but immitation of nature.

  152. We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.
       George Bernard Shaw

  153. Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.
       George Bernard Shaw

  154. A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
       William Shedd

  155. Men of ill judgement oft ignore the good
    That lies within their hands, till they have lost it.

  156. To him who is in fear everything rustles.

  157. The mark of a good action is that it appears inevitable in retrospect.
       Robert Louis Stevenson

  158. Fortune is like glass--the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.
       Publius Syrus

  159. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.
       Publius Syrus

  160.  - T -

  161. The mountain remains unmoved at seeming defeat by the mist.
       Rabindranath Tagore

  162. Beauty, more than bitterness
    Makes the heart break.
       Sara Teasdale

  163. I am a part of all that I have seen.
       Alfred Lord Tennyson

  164. There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly.

  165. Nothing is said that has not been said before.
      --Terence (185-159 B.C.)

  166. Only he is successful in his business who makes that pursuit which affords him the highest pleasure sustain him.
       Henry David Thoreau

  167. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
       Henry David Thoreau

  168. There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.
      --James Thurber

  169. Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.
      --Alvin Toffler

  170. Not all who wander are lost.
      --J.R.R. Tolkien

  171. Intense feeling too often obscures the truth.
       Harry Truman

  172.  - V -

  173. Long years must pass before the truths we have made for ourselves become our very flesh.
       Paul Valery

  174. In love, as in war, a fortress that parleys is half taken.
       Margaret of Valois

  175. Death twitches my ear. 'Live,' he says, 'I am coming.'

  176.  - W -

  177. Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting.
      --Karl Wallenda

  178. One is never more on trial than in the moment of excessive good fortune.
       Lew Wallace

  179. And from the discontent of one man
    The world's best progress springs.
       Ella Wheeler Wilcox

  180. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth.
       Oscar Wilde

  181. There is luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one else has a right to blame us.
       Oscar Wilde

  182.  - Y -

  183. Surrounding yourself with dwarfs does not make you a giant.
       Yiddish Proverb

  184. There is no god like one's stomach: We must sacrifice to it every day.
       Yoruba Saying

  185.  - Z -

  186. There is more stupidity around than hydrogen, and it has a longer shelf life.
       Frank Zappa

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