There Is An Aphorism for Everything

An aphorism for everything, and everything its aphorism; that's my philosophy.
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There is a what for everything?, I hear you ask. An aphorism, I say: a short, witty, philosophical saying. An aphorism for everything, and everything its aphorism; that's my philosophy. Here are a couple of examples:

When I am shaving in the morning and I behold my rapidly receding hairline--a modest curl rushing towards the crown of my head like some follicular riptide--I think of Jean Cocteau and his quip: "Mirrors would do well to reflect a little more before sending back images."

Or take crowns, for instance. I live in the United Kingdom, where the head of state is a monarch who often wears a crown on festive occasions, which always makes me think of Michel de Montaigne's great line: "Upon the highest throne in the world, we are seated, still, upon our arses."

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say up front that I have a vested interest in aphorisms. I've been obsessed by them since I was eight-years-old and have (so far) written two books on the subject. I'm so invested in aphorisms because they have invested so much in me. They are always popping into my head unbidden, and they always bring with them fresh insight or wisdom. Not in some pollyanna-ish way, like "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" or similar feel-goodisms. But in a much more provocative, challenging, and--for me, at least--rewarding way.

My 10-year-old son has been losing a lot of teeth recently. And, coincidentally, so have I. Over the past three months or so, he's lost about a half dozen "baby teeth" and pocketed some $20 in the process. (The tooth fairy, just still barely in business with my son, is getting hammered by the pound-dollar exchange rate.) Over that same period, I have lost part of one molar (it broke off while I was eating) and had a root canal treatment on another. Total cost to me: some $1,500. I look at my son and see all the ways we are similar and different--we're both kind of introverted, both of us love to read, but he's a much better piano player and he makes money on his dental problems while I lose it--and I'm reminded of Magdalena Samozwaniec's saying: "Age and youth have the same appetites but not the same teeth."

Aphorisms are food for thought--like sushi, they come in small portions that are both delicious and exquisitely formed. And, like sushi, I can never get enough.

James Geary is the author of Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists. He and his "juggling aphorisms" show are at the New York Public Library on Oct. 9.

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