Printable Version
Pronunciation: æ-pê-them Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A pithy, usually short, sententious saying, an aphorism, a maxim, an often repeated phrase.

Notes: Though G is ignored in the noun, apothegm (as in phlegm), it is not in the adjective therefrom: apothegmatic [æ-pê-theg--tik]. An apothegm differs from the two near synonyms in the Meaning above. An aphorism is known for its compactness, its sharp focus on the sentiment it expresses. A maxim is a fixed, instructive saying, not necessarily short.

In Play: Here are some examples of apothegms: "Many of today's cynical apothegms like, 'Every man for himself,' and 'It's a dog-eat-dog world' are attributed to the Greek philosopher, Hepititis." Speeches and articles may be apothegmatic: "Marko packed his talk with apothegms in, I would say, every sentence."

Word History: This word was borrowed ultimately from Greek (via Latin and French) apophthegma "something frankly spoken", from apophtheggesthai "to speak frankly," from apo "(away) from"+ phtheg- "speak". The Greek word apo was inherited intact from the Proto-Indo-European word apo "off, away", which came through its Germanic ancestors to English of, off, and offal, that part of the carcass that is thrown away. That is it in aft and after, when the root assumed the sense of "behind". In German it turned up as ab "away, off". In Russian the initial A was clipped and it appears today as po "by, along, according to". The origin of phtheg- remains a mystery. (An apothegm fitting for George Kovac is, 'We thank you from the bottom of our hearts,' for the recommendation of today's rare beauty of a Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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