American “Wisdom” Fads / Proverbs, Aphorisms, Cliches

Ben Franklin: The Godfather of all this crap!

The wonderful world of accepted truth and wisdom, traditional to American education and pop-culture, is truly “archaic” and relies on kindergarten pedagogy that has not changed nor advanced in 250+ years. The “forms” remain the same, updated by words that are jingoistic to contemporary culture – reference to technology is GOLD. Note that although “folk wisdom sayings” are extremely popular, the content, although accepted as true intellectual achievement, and even the source of received wisdom, is meaningless- simple “nothings” which seek to inculcate children into various social belief systems!  “Magical Thinking / Magic Words” Neoteny…


What are … Proverbs, Sayings, Aphorisms, Idioms, Puns, etc.

Here is a list of definitions (with examples), which helps to understand the difference between these terms.

(Note: Removed a couple that are less popular or problematic in American usage; see website. I’ve added popular image quotes from the Internet to make examples more relevant.)

It is common to find different words existing in English to represent similar ideas. It is an frequent characteristic of a language with a long history. There are a number of specific types of saying, of which proverb is probably the best known. However, the distinction between them is often pretty vague.


Adage – An aphorism that has that has gained credit through long use.

Example: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Aphorism – A tersely, memorable phrased statement of a truth or opinion; an adage

Example: He’s a fool who cannot conceal his wisdom.


Cliché – An overly commonplace, banal or trite saying, expression or idea. Sometimes the terms stereotype or platitude are used as a synonym. Clichés can be defined as preconceived twists, hackneyed and worn out by too frequent use of images, modes of expression, speech and thought patterns. These are often used thoughtlessly and without individual conviction.


Dead people are victims of cliché-making: an American specialty…

Epigram – A concise, clever, often paradoxical statement, thought or observation; sometimes expressed as a short, witty poem.

Example: The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.

Folklore- The term in the narrower sense means oral lore of a group of people. In the broader sense folklore describes the totality of  “demotic” traditions. It often has religious or mythical elements. See also: myth, (urban) legend, tale, oral tradition. (Americans can’t get enough of this stuff…)

Idiom – An expression that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of the words. Quite a few idioms are language specific, and thus difficult to translate.

Example: A cold day in Hell

Hyperbole- A figure of speech (or any rhetorical device) in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, mostly beyond credibility.

It is encountered in casual speech, as in — “I could sleep for a year” — “This book weighs a ton.”

Maxim – Compared with its approximate synonyms: ‘saying, adage, saw, motto, epigram, proverb, aphorism’, the term maxim stresses the succinct formulation of a fundamental principle, general truth, or rule of conduct.

Example: Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Proverb- A simple and short saying, widely known, often metaphorical, which expresses a basic truth or practical precept, based on common sense or cultural experience.

Example: Honesty is the best policy.

Pun- This is a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of words (or of similar-sounding words) for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect.

Example: A fool with a tool is still a fool.


Quotation- This is a repetition — literally taken over from another text or speech and explicitly attributed by a citation. Quotes, whose original context is lost and can no longer be reconstructed, are named fragments.

Example: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Saying– A short well-known expression — a pithy remark of wisdom and truth or a general advice.

Example: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Slogan- This is a memorable motto or phrase used as a repetitive expression of an idea or purpose. Also called tagline or one liner. (Fundamental to adverting and marketing)

Witticism- Witty remarks can be intentionally cruel and are more ingenious than funny.

Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” Churchill replied “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”

Axiom- An axiom (or postulate) is a principle of a theory, scientific model, or an axiomatic system that is and cannot be justified from within the system or derived by deduction. In everyday language, the term Axiom is used to describe a fundamental simple truth; like ‘a circle is round’

Axioms (and definitions) are rejected by neurotypicals as “black and white thinking” – interpreted as “unfair” in some way, as if there ought to be no facts at all; “everything is negotiable” “Whatever is going on in my brain is true” (narcissism)

Dogma- A Dogma is a principle or set of principles, which serve as a definition or as a basic (normative) doctrine. Its inherent truth claim cannot be refuted, without affecting the very system’s central paradigms and the (belief) systems stability. The content of a dogma has at least no proven or recognizable counterpart in reality. It is also often laid down by an authority as an incontrovertibly truth.

Example: “The theories and prescriptions invented by psychologists, which claim to explain human nature and behavior, have become social dogma”. 

Paradox- A paradox is a statement that seemingly or actually contains an irresolvable contradiction. Thus it contradicts itself and yet might be true.

Example: All Cretans are liars. [from Epimenides (a Cretan) who made this immortal statement]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s