Two famous quotations (at least) contain irony (wry wit? subtle brainteasers?):

Epimenides was a Cretan who made one immortal statement: "All Cretans are liars."

(if true, he was telling a lie, and thus not all Cretans were liars, but in that case he lied, so...)

And Einsteins: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

(that is, not a simple, but a complex statement; the last clause seems redundant, because if something is already as simple as possible, it is impossible to make it simpler, thus the last part can be lopped off - he broke his own dictum in the stating of it.)

Is there a word for such sayings?


An example of something truly made as simple as possible - to the point of reductio ad absurdum - is the story about the fishmonger who had a sign made for his shop, which proclaimed:


A friend told him the "Here" was redundant, as nobody would think he was selling his wares across town; so he painted over that word.

Another friend told him that "Sold" was redundant, as nobody would expect him to "give away the store" for nothing; thus, he painted that word out, too.

A third friend opined that "Fresh" was unnecessary, as who would think he would be selling rotten fish? He removed the word.

A fourth finally let him know that even "Fish" was superfluous information, as anybody with any sense at all could easily tell exactly what sort of business he was running. You can guess what the fish merchant did then.

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    Questions which lack results of research are out of scope. Word or phrase requests are out of scope, unless they are expert-level, particularly interesting, unique, and thought-provoking, and show effort and research. For help writing a good question, see How to Ask. – MetaEd Jul 7 '16 at 16:47
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    "All Cretans are liars" might be true. A liar is one who lies on occasion, not necessarily at every opportunity. / "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." is understood as "Everything should be explained as simply as possible, without over-complicated terminology, phraseology, or detail, but without sacrificing accuracy by over-simplification." His version is wittier, punchier, but arguably non-precisionist. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 8 '16 at 9:42

Your first and third examples are paradigmatic examples of paradoxes.

Paradox: A statement that, despite apparently sound reasoning from true premises, leads to a self-contradictory or a logically unacceptable conclusion.

The Einstein quote is not an exact match, it is somewhat paradoxical, but not actually a true paradox. A better description of it would be an aphorism.

Aphorism: A statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner. The term is often applied to philosophical, moral and literary principles.

If you really want a combination of the two, you might go with the compound term "paradoxical aphorism." Another example might be Niels Bohr's famous quote: "The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth."


They can also be "epigrams". According to dictionary.com:

noun 1. any witty, ingenious, or pointed saying tersely expressed.

  • The ironic thing (about the Einstein quote, anyway) is that it could be "tercer". – B. Clay Shannon Jul 7 '16 at 20:07

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