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September 13, 2011 - Stephen Browne
Among my odd hobbies, I'm a collector of aphorisms, and a bit of an aphorist myself.
A what? An aphorist, a writer of aphorisms. Prominent writers or collectors of aphorisms have included Benjamin Franklin, François de La Rochefoucauld, Blaise Pascal, the Biblical author of Ecclesiastes, and according to Norse myth the chief of the gods of Asgard, Odin the High One.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines aphorism as:
1 a concise statement of a principle 2 a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment : (see) adage
Wikipedia calls it, "An aphorism (literally "distinction" or "definition", from the Greek: aphorismós, from apo + horizein, "from/to bound") is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form."
They've been around for a long time, since people first noticed you could distill a lot of wisdom down to a pithy, memorable phrase you could carry around in your head and recall when you needed it - or perhaps just after you needed it.
Aphorisms sometimes make you chuckle.
"We rarely ever perceive others as sensible, except for those who agree with us," François de La Rochefoucauld.
And sometimes make you nod your head with somber reflection.
"He who increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow," Ecclesiastes.
But sometimes they misfire altogether. Lately I've been thinking of a couple of reasonably well-known aphorism that I think are total BS.
There one by Friedrich Nietzsche, "That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger."
That one has been popularized by G. Gordon Liddy who rattled it off in German to the press after he got out of prison (I'm impressed by that at least,) and by the original Conan movie which featured it on the screen at the beginning.
It's grand-sounding. Too bad it's nonsense. Sometimes what does not destroy you leaves you walking wounded.
Then there's that aphorism of Tolstoy, which opens his novel "Anna Karenina."
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
That's not only not true, it's the total opposite of the truth. Happy families seem to find a myriad ways to be happy, even in the midst of misery and squalor. It's unhappy families that are depressingly alike.
Can you tell I'm having a bad day?
Well after all, "Praise no day till it has ended," the Havamal: Words of the High One.
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