Quotes, sayings, aphorisms, maxims. What's the difference between all these, especially aphorism vs. maxim?


An aphorism is a synonym for a proverb, that's also short and to the point. Usually, it's supposed to impart some important moral lesson. Here's a well-known example:

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

A maxim is a slogan or a personal prescription for some generality of life; importantly, it does not have the same moral connotations as an aphorism. Maxims can be downright dangerous; consider

Four legs good, two legs baaaddd.

from the famous Orwell satire Animal Farm, a phrase famous for connoting the kind of totalitarian mindset required for enforcing the simplistic sociology Orwell found in communism.

A big difference between the two words is that aphorisms need be drawn from society somehow -- they are known to people other than yourself, they are received wisdom. In contrast, one can have personal maxims; it's fairly common nowadays for people to tattoo such on their bodies, things like "Faith and Family" in elaborate script to apparently remind them how to live.

  • This question-asker finds SANGVIS ÆTERNVS useful as a personal maxim. – Uticensis Mar 22 '11 at 13:10
  • Are there any mutual conflicted aphorism ? – user3780 Mar 22 '11 at 15:48
  • @user3780 Yeah, there are plenty; the one couplet that seems most contradictory to me is Look before you leap / He who hesitates is lost, discussing whether it is better to be patient or action-oriented when a new opportunity comes one's way. – Uticensis Mar 22 '11 at 16:18

Aphorism's are western and maxim's are more eastern. And contrary to the previous answer, maxim's are commonly deeper than aphorisms.

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