20 Aphorisms That I Thought Were Dumb as a Boy But Now Appreciate as a Grown Man

by AoM Team on January 8, 2014 · 198 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood, On Virtue, Personal Development



This post brought to you by Old Spice. Use new Re-Fresh body spray and spray goodbye to your boyhood.

When I was a young man, I would scoff at well-intentioned adults who would sometimes offer up little aphorisms when I got in trouble or had a problem. Little nuggets like, “This too shall pass,” generally went in one ear and out the other. They sounded too simple and too cliché to really mean anything.

But as I’ve become a grown man, I’ve had experiences where these little bits of wisdom have come back to me and have revealed their value and deeper truth. I’ve come to really agree with the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who argued that “The largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms.”

An aphorism is a short, pithy statement that conveys a principle or contains a pearl of wisdom. Part of what makes them so powerful is that they can stand on their own without context; as the philologist Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel put it, “An aphorism ought to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world like a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog.”

Philosopher Nassim Nicholas Talib argues that an aphorism’s ability “to compress powerful ideas in a handful of words” shows bravado. This may be why, he notes, “the Arabic word for an improvised one-liner is “act of manliness.”

These “acts of manliness” communicate timeless truths that have been around for ages. But the fact that aphorisms are so old and common makes them easy to dismiss, the way I did as a young man.

As a culture we want things that seem new, revolutionary, complex, and smart; we want the cool hacks and “secrets” that haven’t been discovered until now. But, as author David Foster Wallace has noted, although these “clichés” may seem “lame and unexciting on the surface,” they actually express great, incredibly relevant truths; no matter how much society has changed, following classic, simple principles is still the pathway to a good, meaningful life. So we would advise everyone (including ourselves) to heed Wallace’s additional words while perusing the aphorisms below: “Bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.” The more you meditate on these words, the more wisdom they’ll reveal to you.

Even when something seems obvious, “The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.” So consider making one of these images your laptop’s screensaver or your phone’s lock screen.

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{ 198 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Jonah January 9, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Age Quod Agis
(Do What You’re Doing)
–in other words…pay attention to what you’re supposed to be about, instead of getting mixed up and distracted–take the step in front of you.

This is a great one for affectionately telling snarky friends to mind their own business. :D

102 T.C. January 9, 2014 at 10:48 pm

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Mahatma Gandh

103 Bruce Egert January 10, 2014 at 6:22 am

My personal favorite: “When I was young I admired clever people; now that I’m old, I admire kind people.”

104 Troy January 10, 2014 at 11:22 am

As I embrace minimalism I am also learning to appreciate “A place for everything and everything in it’s place”

105 Bill P January 10, 2014 at 12:29 pm

I’d love to see high resolution versions of these so I could print them out for my man-cave.

Thanks!

106 Brett McKay January 10, 2014 at 1:38 pm

@Blair/Bill-

As far as resizing them for phones or offering hi-res images…we picked out the aphorisms and the photos, but actually paid a graphic designer to put them together (having close to zero design sense myself!). So I’m not able to alter them or offer other versions myself.

107 Peter January 10, 2014 at 2:36 pm

One word – Awesome!!

108 Zach January 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

109 FeatherBlade January 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

My rancher grandfather’s favorite saying was apparently “A change is as good as a rest.”

My brother’s response was “So, why don’t you rest for a change?”

110 John January 10, 2014 at 6:10 pm

@Brett McKay -

What agreement do you have with your graphic designer? If I were to resize the images and place them on a non-distracting background with the proper aspect ratio for a phone lock screen, could I post the images to a Picasa album for free distribution?

I have already resized/formatted one image for personal use, but I don’t want to distribute if it will cause trouble me, you, or your designer.

111 Peggy B January 10, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Put these on paper that people can buy! you’d make a mint…I would love to have several of these framed at our cottage…just saying…

112 Cush January 10, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Love a good aphorism. Discovered The Art of Worldly Wisdom a few years back (it was in the appendix of The 48 Laws of Power) and still read it now and then. This site has them, but think a few of them are slightly different than the book…Some of them are so profound, it took me a few days to get it. http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/aww/aww10.htm

113 cheesemissile January 11, 2014 at 12:11 am

“So be it”, is my preferred version of “It is what it is”

114 P.M.Lawrence January 11, 2014 at 1:12 am

When a worker once told his foreman, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, the foreman replied, “I wasn’t on that job”.

115 HeywoodJablome January 11, 2014 at 1:58 am

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flys like bananas.

116 edward January 11, 2014 at 9:41 am

Great inspiring Illustrations sir..

i just watched the great gatsby sir, and I was so inspired of Jay Gatsby’s story how he rises through his success the courage, the vision and the persistence to work out his dream.. even its a great fiction F. Scott Fitzgerald greatly created a great archetype for manhood..

117 Roger January 11, 2014 at 10:02 am

I always try to remember this old saw: “A stitch, in time, saves nine”.

118 Optimus Maximus January 11, 2014 at 1:00 pm

A favorite from my dad:
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without

119 Matthew Kyle Byers January 11, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I’ve always liked giving a man a fish vs teaching to fish. Does that count as an aphorism? For many, it requires context, or explanation. A wrote a little about it here http://www.iprefercapn.blogspot.com/2013/11/you-are-capable-of-great-things.html?m=1

120 Dario January 11, 2014 at 3:31 pm

I’ve heard my grandfather saying this:
“Strong wind doesn’t last for long” (referred to trends, sudden strong motivation or even, in a good way, to very bad things in general).
“Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst.”

121 Greg Sobran January 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm

The good Lord provides for every little bird, but he does not drop it into the nest.

122 Bob Smith January 11, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Fake it until you make it.

123 Michel January 12, 2014 at 12:39 am

“Don’t wish it was easier. Wish you were better.”

This came to mind when I felt like quitting.

124 Bill January 12, 2014 at 6:12 am

My Dad’s favorite was, “Wish in one hand, s^$t in the other; see which gets filled up first”. It was his way of saying, “don’t just talk about it, do it”.

125 Phil A January 12, 2014 at 6:31 am

Only the spoon knows what’s in the pot

126 Edin January 12, 2014 at 7:09 am

Nice and true quotes. But I disagree with this one: “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” For the first time in history, we live in an age of moral relativism where such quotes appear. From time immemorial, thousands and thousands of years, people believe there IS good and there IS bad. Good and bad are absolutes categories (God-given), not relative, left to our mercy of defining them. These quotes are precisely why we live in chaos and hell like the one we live in today. Advocates of that idea say, “Follow your bliss and do whatever you please, as long as it feels good. There is no good and evil except in your head.” And we can see sad consequences and results of following that idea in the world today.

127 Shawn January 12, 2014 at 8:31 am

@Edward

This may take us a little off topic, but you may want to read The Great Gatsby. I don’t say this to be snarky. Please know that that is not my intent, or my tone.

I haven’t seen the newest movie version of The Great Gatsby — on purpose. Always beware of the movie versions of novels. And always, always beware of Baz Lurhman.

In reading and teaching Gatsby, we find that he is an empty man, trying to live out some corrupted form of the American dream.

Yes, everyone attends his parties, but it is clear that no one really knows him, and he has no real friends. Only Nick and Gatsby’s father attend his funeral. That’s probably not in the movie.

Yes, he does bring himself from poverty to affluence, but in reading we find that he most likely did this through unscrupulous methods. Whether it be through bootlegging, or gambling (with the possible connection to the World Series scandal of 1919), or some other such, he believes that acquiring the material possessions (the house, the cars, the many fine shirts) will be enough to win Daisy who first rejected him because “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys.” Everything Gatsby does in his life is predicated on the goal of winning this woman.

This is not the case. Despite the fact that he has acquired all the material aspects of the American Dream, when the “fit hits the shan” Daisy retreats back into her blue blood marriage. After Daisy — driving Gatsby’s car — runs over and kills Myrtle — Tom’s mistress — they (at least passively) allow Gatsby to take the blame and the vengeance of Myrtle’s husband. Daisy gets away with murder (Well, manslaughter is guess it would be.); Tom gets away with having an affair; and this society of blue bloods, this society of old money that Gatsby was trying to work his way into, lets him take the fall for their actions.

So, no. I’m not sure Jay Gatsby (James Gatz) is our model of manhood. His life is centered only on acquiring material possessions, being flashy, showy and ostentatious, and seeking to simultaneously separate himself from his past while winning the lady of his past who rejected him because of her own skewed values.

On the aphorism note, however, this is another awesome post! I use a great many of these as my “quote of the day” for my classroom. With freshmen it is a great way to have them stick their toe in the water of public speaking. I just a minute or two they can recite any one of these and then take another moment or two to explain it. Quick, easy, and relatively painless way of getting them in the front of the room.

Thanks. And, again, no negativity intended.

128 Tanner January 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm

A poor craftsman blames his tools!

129 brandon January 12, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I was going to say for the ‘hunger is the best sauce’

the way I know it is ‘hunger is the best seasoning’

130 Lani Rosales January 12, 2014 at 4:14 pm

I’m embarrassed to say that there are several of these that I hadn’t heard before – thank you so much!!

131 kappa January 12, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I made one up and use it all the time: “Time wounds all heels”. One that my depression era father-in-law used a lot when someone complained about a tough cut of meat was: “Tougher when there ain’t any”…I miss him~

132 Nobody Atall January 12, 2014 at 6:44 pm

This puts me in mind of Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings”

133 Nobody Atall January 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm

A man is known by the company he keeps.

134 Alex k January 12, 2014 at 10:32 pm

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

135 Matt January 13, 2014 at 7:29 am

From tiny Acorns do mighty Oak tress grow.
This was a favourite of my Grand Parents

136 DougyDoug January 13, 2014 at 11:18 am

My favorite: “A changing mind is a growing mind”.

137 Caitlin H. January 13, 2014 at 12:09 pm

“Onward ever; backward never.”

138 Brett McKay January 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm

@John-

That would be fine.

139 porkchop January 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm

My father used to say funny thing too. …about favoured institutions: Rome wasn’t sacked in a day.

…and regarding the value of thinking things through: Don’t just do something, sit there.

140 Jeffrey Beaumont January 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm

On getting involved in conflict, either your own or others’, my grandfather:

“The more you stir s–t, the worse it stinks.”

141 Jeff January 13, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Comment a biker friend of mine made;
“If it has tits or tires, it’s going to cost you money”.

From a Navy SEAL; “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”

142 Phillip January 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm

“I shot in arrow in the air and where it landed I have no care because I purchase wholesale.”

These aphorisms are terrific and none of them are as dumb as a boy.

143 Chris Jones (@IPv6Freely) January 14, 2014 at 3:36 pm

I honestly can’t stand these. To me they’re just as cheesy as the motivational posters that were in every office building in the 2000s.

144 Davis January 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I really enjoyed these aphorisms. Two of my favorites are

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“Trust but verify”

145 Derek January 14, 2014 at 5:10 pm

These could be made into something like the coasters that come with the book boxed set. Love these!

146 Scott M. January 14, 2014 at 5:56 pm

These are more obscure, but I love them anyway:

“As the twig is bent, so doth the tree incline.”
and
“No matter how much the wind may howl, the mountain doesn’t move.”

147 Michele January 14, 2014 at 8:08 pm

My dad said Rome wasn’t built in a day because HE wasn’t there.

148 John January 15, 2014 at 7:48 am

A dog that fetches also carries

149 Bryce January 15, 2014 at 9:06 am

“Don’t wait until it rains to build your ark.”

150 Hamlet January 15, 2014 at 2:02 pm

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” is a line spoken by Hamlet, mocking Rosenkreutz and Guildenstern, it actually means the opposite of what the quotes appears to mean on its face.

151 Andrew January 15, 2014 at 9:42 pm

My grandfather gave simple life advise, “Do the right thing.” It has served me well.

152 Serika January 15, 2014 at 9:44 pm

I’m now older, I don’t read these quotes. I feel them. Thank you.

153 Gars January 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

Put a bunch of these on a paper in a spiral and call it 1000 words is worth a picture.

154 Jordan January 16, 2014 at 12:41 pm

“Teach a man to fish and eats for a day. DON’T teach a man to fish and you feed yourself…He’s a grown man. Fishing’s not that hard.”

-The one and only Ron Swanson

155 Dave T January 16, 2014 at 1:02 pm

“Life’s too short for plain white underwear.” OK, I made that one up. Sorta true, though.

156 Joe January 17, 2014 at 12:44 am

Enough is as good as a feast.

157 Ambrose January 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Love: The condition in which another’s well being is essential to your own.

-Robert A. Heinlein

158 Henry January 17, 2014 at 3:28 pm

“It’s not the knowing that is difficult, but the doing.”

Kinda exposes the cosmic plot hole in “Chuck,” doesn’t it?

159 Craig January 17, 2014 at 5:11 pm

So many of these are true.

160 bill January 18, 2014 at 8:28 pm

the hide goes with the tail

161 Nikola January 19, 2014 at 7:21 am

Its really the truth. The older the wiser.

162 Andre January 19, 2014 at 9:31 am

One that I always tell my kids and try to apply in my own life: “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”

163 Paul January 19, 2014 at 11:59 am

These would honestly look fantastic as coasters.

164 Jesus January 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm

The smartest thing you can do is to be humble.

165 Colin January 19, 2014 at 6:32 pm

There’s no right way to do the wrong thing.

166 Jay Payleitner January 19, 2014 at 6:48 pm

“Always, always, always have an inflating needle handy.” — Jay Payleitner, author of 52 Things Sons Need from Their Dads

167 Jordan January 19, 2014 at 7:09 pm

It would be wrong not to mention that “There is nothing good or bad but thinking that makes it so” was a quote from Hamlet, spoken by the same when he was pretending to be insane. Which pretty clearly says that only lunatics think there is no objective good or evil.

168 Berts January 19, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Seems appropriate.
The only way to read a book of aphorisms without being bored is to open it at random and, having found something that interests you, close the book and meditate.

Prince Charles-Josef de Ligne (1735 – 1814),
Austrian field marshal and writer

169 jim kolb January 20, 2014 at 1:51 pm

My dad used to say “everybody sits or nobody sits.” I always liked that one, keeps me motivated even when i’m tired.

170 Patrick January 21, 2014 at 8:55 am

You’d like Chinese. It’s full of short four character aphorisms called chengyu. Over 2000 years worth of classic philosophies, stories, etc.

As for English, my favorite saying might not be an aphorism yet, but it should be. Kahlil Gibran’s, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. “

171 Brownhound January 22, 2014 at 10:03 pm

I like “The ox is slow, but the earth is patient.” And a co-worker once told me, “Observe everything. Admire Nothing.”

172 John January 23, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Rule from my Grandfather regarding initiative that is displayed in my office

“Do something. Do ANYTHING! Even if it is wrong, do something! We can always fix it later.”

173 David V January 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm

“Dawn comes early in the swamp”

My Father-in-law likes to quote his dad as saying that.

Off on a tangent, but doesn’t the guy sitting in the picture for the “ounce of prevention” look like Tim Curry?

174 FatBoyFat January 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm

If you pray for potatoes have a hoe in your hand.

175 Josh January 24, 2014 at 8:28 am

My Grandfather has a version of “he puts his pants on one leg at a time like everybody else”…he would say whenever you feel intimidated or such remember “he drops his pants and Sh.ts just like you”

176 Seth January 25, 2014 at 10:55 pm

These would be really awesome as drink coasters.

177 Michael January 27, 2014 at 4:18 pm

“Lift your own weights” is something I tell folks in and out of the gym. Don’t worry about my form. don’t worry about my routine and don’t worry about how much I’m lifting.

178 Jonathan January 27, 2014 at 8:18 pm

You can take kids fishing but you can’t fish with kids.

179 Ross January 27, 2014 at 8:27 pm

These are delightful. When I was a youth (not that long ago) I worked in construction for about 20 years…or perhaps more. I’ve probably built between 400 and 500 houses, so when I was confronted by an expert extolling the virtues of measuring twice and cutting once I could only wonder how I was expected to keep my job if I were to bother measuring every cut twice. I’ve never been able to find a counter-aphorism that expresses the need to allow inexperienced carpenters the freedom to destroy some materials in order to train themselves to make accurate cuts measuring only once.

180 Jim January 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Actually the “hunger” quote comes from the book Robinson Crusoe. It reads: “Hunger is pride’s master.”

181 John January 29, 2014 at 8:41 pm

These are wonderful quotes. I’ll add one my father used to encourage my brothers and I to be men of action. “You can’t steer a parked car.”

182 Alex January 30, 2014 at 1:54 am

Hard time don’t last,hard men do

My Mothers favorite:
Fear the silent man

183 Hussien January 30, 2014 at 4:12 am

Great piece, good read.

184 Robb January 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm

my parents famous one- $h!t or get off the pot—make a decision — OR — do something and if not get out of the way and let someone else do it

185 Bojan January 31, 2014 at 9:50 am

Very good pictures :) As a boy i would not understand them for sure, but now they ring a bell in my head :) Very inspiring keep up the good work

186 peter pen January 31, 2014 at 10:39 am

Did I miss “The pear doesn’t fall away from the tree”?

187 Tony February 3, 2014 at 5:37 pm

“Opakování matka moudrosti.”
“Repetition is the mother of wisdom”

A Czech traditional saying my grandmother taught me. – Meaning the more you do something, the better you get at knowing not only the task itself but all it’s implications, meanings, and relevance to the world.

188 Hobbes February 8, 2014 at 8:44 am

“Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”

189 John W. February 9, 2014 at 2:20 pm

“If you don’t have time to do it right, you’d better have time to do it twice.”
-
“Personal heroics is not a business plan.”
-
“Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while.”

190 John February 9, 2014 at 9:28 pm

My Mother used to say; ” the days drag-on and the years fly by” My good lord,i so know what she was talking about now.

191 Phil February 10, 2014 at 12:55 pm

The phrase “there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so” has no place on a website called The Art of Manliness. Moral relativism is the most insidious and destructive force I have seen in my 27 short years. There is a difference between right and wrong, and it will always matter to a real man.

192 Brett McKay February 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm

@Phil-

You completely misunderstand the aphorism. I recommend unto you the study of Stoicism if you wish to understand its meaning.

193 Wan February 12, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Me dad always says:

It is always easier to looks at someone’s ass than yours. Yet, it is always easier to clean up yours.

194 Steve February 13, 2014 at 3:42 pm

In God we Trust, all others bring Cash.

195 Knute February 24, 2014 at 12:43 pm

What goes around comes around. No matter how high the throne what sits on it is the same as your own.

196 scott March 3, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he steals your good fishing spots!

197 Lee Green March 4, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Showing off is a fools idea of glory.

198 Joe Christian March 26, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Sign in a lifeboat: Pray towards heaven; row towards shore.

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