“Men seldom make passes,
At girls who wear glasses.”

That’s Dorothy Parker’s famous aphorism (which I disagree with since I dated several women who wore glasses…and married one!). James Geary collects a wide range of aphorism writers and provides examples of their best work. Plenty of my favor aphorisms are included in this book. How about “The most entertaining surface on earth is the human face.” (p 106) That’s Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. Or how about Seneca’s “Do not regard as valuable anything that can be taken away.” (p. 59). Or “We are what we think” (p. 32) from Buddha. The World in a Phrase (2005) provides pithy wisdom and guidance. This handy little book brings humor and intelligence in fun phrases. Excellent book! GRADE: A
1. Guessing Is More Fun Than Knowing: The Confessions of an Aphorism Addict; 1
The Five Laws of Aphorisms;
1. It Must Be Brief; 2. It Must Be Definitive; 3. It Must Be Personal; 4. It Must Have a Twist; 5. It Must Be Philosophical;
2. We Are What We Think: Ancient Sages, Preachers, and Prophets; 21
Lao-tzu; 27
Buddha; 31
Confucius; 35
Jesus; 38
Muhammad; 42
The Zen Masters; 45
3. A Man Is Wealthy in Proportion to the Things He Can Do Without: Greek and Roman Stoics; 49
Diogenes; 52
Epicurus; 55
Seneca; 58
Epictetus; 62
Marcus Aurelius 65
4. Upon the Highest Throne in the World, We Are Seated, Still, upon Our Arses: French and Spanish Moralists 67
Michel de Montaigne; 69
Baltasar Gracián; 75
FranÃois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld; 81
Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues; 87
Sébastien-Roch Nicolas Chamfort; 92
Joseph Joubert; 97
5. Good and Evil Are the Prejudices of God: Heretics, Dissenters, and Skeptics; 102
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg; 106
Arthur Schopenhauer; 109
Friedrich Nietzsche; 114
Ludwig Wittgenstein; 119
E. M. Cioran; 123
6. The Lack of Money Is the Root of All Evil: The Rise of the American One-Liner; 126
Ralph Waldo Emerson; 130
Henry David Thoreau; 133
Mark Twain 139
Ambrose Bierce 144
7. Know Then Thyself, Presume Not God to Scan; The Proper Study of Mankind Is Man: In Praise of Light Verse; 149
Alexander Pope; 152
William Blake; 157
Emily Dickinson; 160
Samuel Hoffenstein; 164
Dorothy Parker; 166
Dr. Seuss; 169
8. In the Beginning Was the Word–At the End Just the Cliche: The Aphorism Today; 174
Karl Kraus; 176
Antonio Porchia; 180
Malcolm de Chazal; 183
Stanislaw Jerzy Lec; 188
Barbara Kruger; 191
Jenny Holzer; 192
Afterisms; 199
Notes; 201


  1. Jeff Meyerson

    Sounds like fun.

    “I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to be a member.”
    –Groucho Marx

  2. Deb

    Psalms 146:3: Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

    Proverbs 29:1: It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.

    Bull Durham: The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.

    1. Jeff Meyerson

      Deb, in BULL DURHAM how about, “Making love is like hitting a baseball. You just gotta relax and concentrate.”

  3. Patti Abbott

    My grandmother must have said this one to me a hundred times as I cried over teenage breakups. “Men are like buses, there is always another one coming by.” Obviously she had never lived in Detroit.

    1. wolf

      In German they made that into a song which is often sung in Carnival (which has already started in Germany):
      Wer wird denn weinen wenn man auseinander geht, wo an der nächsten Ecke schon ein andrer steht …
      Loosely translated:
      Don’t shed a tear after breaking up because the next one might be standing just around the corner …
      This goes for girls and guys btw.

      1. george Post author

        Jeff, I like that P. T. Barnum quote, but I like this one better: “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

  4. wolf

    Your first example made me laugh already – in German it is:
    Mein letzter Wille – Frau mit Brille!
    Loosely translated: My last will would be a woman with glasses.

    Interesting that in chapter 5 mainly German philosophers appear …

    1. george Post author

      Bob, yes but that Mencken quote was superseded by P. T. Barnum’s: “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”

    1. george Post author

      Deb, one of my favorite German sayings is: “Bei kaltem Wetter läuft die Nase, bei kaltem Bier läuft die Blase.”

      “When the weather’s cold your nose runs, when the beer’s cold your bladder does”.

      1. wolf

        That reminds me of the main difference between Brits and Americans:
        In England when I first got there for a language course almost 55 years ago my friend and I were horrified when we tried the lukewarm, dark and sweet beer aka Ale. Luckily we found out that they had cold “Pale ale”, similar to our beers – but only in cans or bottles and much more expensive!
        On the other hand US beer is sometimes so cold – and they even add icecubes!
        I have however many fond memories, especially from bars in NYC (not only Greenwich Village). Often when people saw me with German newspaper or a guide they would start a conversation, maybe telling me that they had been in Germany with the Army or they had a German grandfather etc …
        The only “negative” experience:
        On a trip once when you could still get cheap hotels in Manhattan (out of season of course, like March or October) on my first day I went into a bar (maybe it was the Corner Bistro which I had visited with people from the Forbidden Planet SF store) I took my first sip and almost died from pain!
        I had a sore throat and only realised it now – couldn’t drink anything cold during my whole stay!

    2. wolf

      Often just the beginning is quoted:
      The gods themselves
      And you surely know this – used by Isaac Asimov as a title for a novel …
      The gods themselves

    1. george Post author

      Prashant, if like aphorisms, you’ll love THE WORLD IN A PHRASE. James Geary also provides a useful BIBLIOGRAPHY which lists even more books of aphorisms.


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