Posted by: Jack Henry | November 25, 2015

Editor’s Corner: A few literary devices for the upcoming holiday

First, Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! I hope you enjoy the day with friends and family, or perhaps taking a break from friends and family. Now, down to business!

Adage, axiom, maxim, saying, aphorism, motto, proverb…the list of words for little sayings and “words to the wise” is plentiful. When we write articles on different sayings from different areas of the country, we always get a lot of responses from our readers. Today I thought I’d define, and provide examples for, a few of these literary devices from the Literary Devices webpage. I personally find them all very similar, but maybe my eyeballs have been focused on technical writing for too long.

An aphorism is a statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner. The term is often applied to philosophical, moral and literary principles.

  • Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old age regret. [Benjamin Disraeli]
  • The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. [William Faulkner]
  • Life’s Tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late. [Benjamin Franklin]
  • The simplest questions are the hardest to answer. [Northrop Frye]

A maxim is literary device; a simple and memorable line, quote or rule for taking action and leading a good life. Simply put, it is a thought with moralistic values that intends to motivate individuals.

  • It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • You’re never too old to learn.
  • Opposites attract.
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

An adage is a short, pointed and memorable saying based on facts, and is considered a veritable truth by the majority of people. Famous adages become popular due to their usage over a long period of time. In fact, an adage expresses a general fact or truth about life. As it becomes popular, it is then accepted as a universal truth. For instance, “God helps those who help themselves” is now considered a universal truth because of its usage throughout human history. Often repeated sayings and quotes become adages that pass on to many generations.

  • Tis better to have loved and lost
    Than never to have loved at all.
  • Things are not always what they seem.
  • Appearances often are deceiving.
  • Don’t cast your pearls before swine. (Matthew 7:6)
  • More blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)

A proverb is a brief, simple and popular saying, or a phrase that gives advice and effectively embodies a commonplace truth based on practical experience or common sense. A proverb may have an allegorical message behind its odd appearance. The reason of popularity is due to its usage in spoken language as well as in the folk literature.

From Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart:

  • “If a child washes his hands he could eat with kings.”

    If you remove the dirt of your ancestors, you can have a better future. Everyone can build his/her own fame.

  • “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing.”

    Everything happens for a reason and for something not for nothingness.

  • “A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm.”

    Children who obey their mothers are not punished.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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