last update: 28 July 2020
Give the single word that completes this proverb, said to occur in various languages: ‘Experience is a comb that nature gives to men when they are . . .’ what?
Wikipedia tells us that a saying is any concisely written or spoken expression that is especially memorable because of its meaning or style.
Sayings are categorised as follows:-
Aphorism - often concerns an important truth or principle, but they can be quite terse or laconic (blunt), but always memorable.
Adage - an aphorism with a philosophical bent and has been around for generations (the test-of-time). Adages sometimes touches on a failure to plan, e.g. "don't count your chickens before they hatch". Adages that are a product of folk wisdom are proverbs, those that describe a moral rule are maxims, and those that are witty or ironic are often called epigrams. When overused they become clichés. Today, adages are often presented as 'laws', e.g. Murphy's Law, Peter Principle, Parkinson's Law, …
Proverb - is a simple, concrete common sense saying, that is a type of folklore. A typical example would be "absence makes the heart grow fonder", just one of a long list of English proverbs. There are also anti-proverbs designed to have a humorous effect, e.g. instead of "a penny saved is a penny earned" you have "a penny saved is a penny taxed".
Saw - an old saying (aphorism) that has become 'conventional wisdom' by long use or tradition. I suppose these are related to old wives' tales.
Apophthegm - Wikipedia calls these "edgy, more cynical", but maybe 'pithy' would work. The alternative spelling apothegm is often mentioned in the context of a fundamental truth or general rule. An example might be "Men are generally more careful of the breed of their horses and dogs than of their children".
It would appear that most aphorisms are attributed to people (aphorists), and Wikipedia list 109 of them (from Aristotle to Oscar Wilde).
We mentioned that adages are often presented as 'laws' and the examples given above were laws or principles named after people (Murphy, Peter, Parkinson). An eponym is a person, place, or things after whom or which someone to something is named. This is a more generic term than adage because an eponym can just as easily be astronomical objects, diseases, scientific laws or just hairstyles. Check out the full list here, but be warned it is massive list. There is a separate list of eponymous laws, but only some are adages.
Alongside proverbs there are also proverbial expressions which are proverbs that are open to alteration to fit into different contexts.
I wonder if some one-line jokes fall into the category of aphorisms.
Cliché is an unoriginal and overused saying that has lost its impact, e.g. "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile". A bromide is a boring statement, and boring or dull people often are called by the same name. A platitude is a cliché that is unsuccessfully presented as though it were meaningful or original. If anything a platitude is even worse than a cliché, some define it as a sanctimonious cliché.
A 'classical' platitude is "nobody's perfect".
A specific type of cliché is the so-called "though-terminating cliché" (also sometimes called "bumper sticker logic"), where a cliché is used to stop a continuing discussion or argument, e.g. "here we go again" or "let's agree to disagree".
I guess one form of cliché or platitude is the 'truism', a self-evident claim that's hardly worth mentioning, e.g. "Tomorrow is another day".
And there is also the so-called "wooden language" (langue de bois), which is about the use of a vague or pompous cliché or platitude designed to avoid addressing the salient issues. One type of "wooden language" you hear often is 'officialese', with long, complex sentences, salted with code words and fine-sounding platitudes, all delivered with an authorative-sounding passive voice.
Another term used for some types of cliché or platitude is a 'snowclone', after the idea that Eskimos have lots of words for snow. Template examples including the constant use of "… is the new …" or calling every scandal "…-gate" (or "…-opoli" in Italy). Wikipedia has a list of "…-gate" scandals.
It strikes me that a cliché or platitude is often no different from the so-called "glittering generality". Both types of expression are vague and usually both have some positive connotation to them. Examples often include "common good", 'hope', 'reform', "hardworking families", etc., all platitudes that everyone can accept.
Another feature of the modern day cliché or platitude is the constant use of inclusive language in the world of political correctness.
I'm not sure how to characterise this, but there exists a form of "reverse platitude" designed to achieve the same Machiavellian objective. An example would be to suggest to someone that what they were planning was "very brave" or "extremely courageous", playing on fear of failure or a backlash in public opinion, etc. The result is that the person reverts quickly to using the "platitude playbook". Clearly my suggestion here is that some people don't know that they constantly use platitudes, whereas others know perfectly well the role it plays in obfuscation and manipulation.
Epigram is a clever and often poetic written saying that comments on a specific person, idea, or thing. According to Wikipedia a non-poetic epigram must be witty or sarcastic, otherwise it just becomes another aphorism or adage. A couple of non-poetic epigrams are "I can resist everything but temptation" (Oscar Wilde) and "If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning" (Catherine the Great).
Some people see the epigram as a high form of art, in that it leaves a positive impression by coupling humour with wisdom. Epigrams make people think.
Epitaph is a saying in honour of a deceased person, often engraved on a headstone or plaque. The most obvious epitaph is "Requiescat in pace" (RIP), but I love Spike Milligan's "I told you I was ill".
Epithet is a descriptive term or saying already widely associated with a specific person, place, idea, or thing. Epithets can range from descriptive to defamatory, e.g. 'Richard the Lionheart' to 'Charles the Fat', to the slur 'chink' for Chinese people. An epithet has also been called a kind of glorified nickname, often presented as a sign of affection. The Wikipedia entry for nickname points to a variety of lists of sporting or royal nicknames, and it also has a list of ethnic slurs and a list of religious slurs.
I guess that epithets includes some forms of insult, jibe, name-calling, taunting, teasing, sarcasm, irony, …
Idiom is a saying that has only a non-literal interpretation, i.e. you cannot tell from the expression "kick the bucket" what it actually means. Wikipedia has the webpage English-language idioms.
Here and there you see idioms being classed as figures of speech, but I have left them as sayings.
Mantra is a religious, mystical, or other spiritual saying that is repeated, for example, in meditation.
Maxim an instructional or motivational expression of a general principle or rule of morality, and they include legal maxims (called brocards when expressed in Latin). A good example is "modus operandi", but also "opposites attract" and "the pen is mightier than the sword" are also said to be maxims.
Motto is a motivational saying used frequently by a person or group to summarise its general mission. A motto is usually written whereas a slogan which can be spoken or written and has the goal to persuade. The motto of the Boy Scouts is "Be Prepared", whereas the motto of the Olympic Games is Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) - personally these sound more like slogans but the 'owners' consider them mottos. Wikipedia lists the Mottos of Nations (and several other collections of lesser standing). One always associates slogans with brands, e.g. "Just Do It" with Nike or "A Diamond is Forever" from DeBeers.
Witticism is a saying that is clever and usually humorous remark, it's more oriented to an ingenious expression or comment, rather than a joke. Wit includes the quip (a clever remark), repartee (swift, witty reply), and even the wisecrack (sarcastic comment).