Make Your Own Aphorisms

Back in November, I was on the BBC Radio 4 programme Word of Mouth to talk about my history of the aphorism. On that show, writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen launched a competition for listeners to compose and send in their own aphorisms. This week, they had me back to judge the entries. Listeners sent in a lively and witty bunch of sayings. The short list and winner will be announced on the programme on Friday, Jan. 27 at 4:00 p.m. You can listen at any time, though, by going to the Word of Mouth site and clicking on “Listen again”. To read what listeners have been saying about aphorisms, and to join the conversation, go to the Word of Mouth “Message board” in the site’s right-hand navigation column.

The aphorism is probably the most accessible literary form ever invented. Anyone can write them, and everyone has a clutch of favorites. Among the aphorisms sent to me recently, my favorites are somewhat pastoral, including this one sent by Lyn, by an unknown author:

Life is easier when you plow around the stump

and this from Debra, whose grandfather used to say this while teaching her father how to cut wood:

Let the saw do the work.

Composing and sharing aphorisms is a popular pasttime. Art Carey, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is a collector of sayings and recently published acolumn that contained lots of words of wisdom from his readers. Cape Cod Times staff reporter and syndicated columnist Sean Gonsalves did the same in one of his recent articles. He kindly references my book, but also stresses a point that I think is crucial: aphorisms are as much about doing as about reading. So check out these pieces—and start composing your own!