Mar 132011

Last year's aphorism contest finalists in the deciding match (computer generated simulation)


The Second Annual Numéro Cinq Aphorism Contest

The wheel of the year has turned and once again we find ourselves facing the daunting task of writing aphorisms for BIG PRIZES. The “wheel of the year” is a reference to the ancient cyclical view of time, that is, time viewed as something like a gerbil’s exercise wheel—the Wheel of Ixion of myth or Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence. At NC, as in the Universe as a Whole, if you wait long enough everything happens again. In this case, it’s time for the second annual Numéro Cinq Aphorism Contest.

Submissions March 15-31.

Submit by entering your aphorism in a comment box beneath this post.

Submissions must be no more than 150 words in length.

Do not enter a submission unless you have figured out what an aphorism is first.* But once you have figured it out, you can enter more than once.

Wit and arrogance appreciated.

Contest open to absolutely everyone including employees of Numéro Cinq, their significant others, children, and small pets.

First Prize — Instant Worldwide (e)Publication w/ commentary.

Plus honours & laurels.

*If you’re stuck, look aphorisms up on the web. Generally speaking, they are terse, pointed sayings meant to provoke thought and argument. There are several basic types, but they often set up as definitions or clever balanced antitheses or even puns. Here is a page called Aphorisms of Famous People. Here is one called Aphorisms4all. Identify different forms and try them all.**

**If you’re really, really stuck, just copy and paste from last year’s contest. The Official Judges’ Long List is here. The People’s Choice Winner is here. And the Official Winner is here.

  175 Responses to “The Second Annual Numéro Cinq Aphorism Contest”

  1. Eunuchs are sad for obvious reasons.

  2. Okay, I can’t help posting this … an aphorism from Dorothy Parker that further defines NC’s mammoth standard of great wit:

    “There’s a hell of a difference between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

  3. I wasn’t an NC participant a year ago, but my choice would have been Gwen Mullins’s “Writing, like sex, seems to make sense when you’re drunk, but it always gets complicated the next day if it’s any good.”

  4. This contest needs a Patron Saint. I vote for Oscar Wilde. My all-time favorite is “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

  5. Or Ambrose Bierce.
    He had a slightly different definition of a cynic (being one himself, by profession): “A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.”

  6. Honed you say> Hmmm. try this superb definition of “Faith” from The devil’s Dictionary:

    “Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without poarallel.”

    Or his fefinition of “Overeat”:

    “To dine.”

    Or perhaps, “Contempt”?

    “The feeling of a prudent man for an enemy who is too formidable safely to be opposed.”

    Or ‘Congratulation” (off the same page):

    “The civility of envy.”

  7. Okay…contest is open, right? I had a bout of aphorism insomnia last night. Yielded these two:

    1. Wisdom is the marriage of certainty and doubt.

    2. Blind astronomers want for little; only a fool sees past the tip of her nose.

  8. Human Nature – oft cited excuse for the least human(e) and most unnatural.

  9. Writing is carving order out of chaos, hacking at the jungle. Behind you, cleared lots, roads, farms. Ahead of you, always: the impenetrable rain forest. The choice, always: turn back, or pick up the machete.

  10. Science is to technology as poetry is to advertising jingles.

  11. When you’re young, you’re good-looking. When you’re old, you’re looking good.

  12. You know you’re in trouble when you envy the girl in the “before” picture.

  13. Here’s one from one of my ESL students:
    “whatever happen we must learn how can we settle it without sad.. our sad don’t change anything”

    And one from my friend’s mother:
    Everything in moderation, even moderation.

  14. If you want to speed up, slow down.

  15. From a t-shirt my grandfather used to have:

    “To do is to be” – Socrates
    “To be is to do.” – Plato
    “Do be do be do.” – Sinatra

  16. What kind of culture promotes such lame attempts at love as Tolerance and Color-Blindness? Only the wicked hope to be tolerated. Only the blind celebrate a seeing disorder.

  17. If you can’t say something nice, you’re probably watching Dancing With the Stars.

  18. I’m sad now. That was one of my two favorite lines from “Steel Magnolias.” I hope author Robert Harling wrote the other one, at least! ( when Truvy says: “Louie brought his new girlfriend over, and the nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelled correctly.”

  19. czandra

    Submitted on 2011/03/16 at 3:00 pm

    three aphorisms:

    1) Names are conclusions.
    2) Knowledge is like a paper airplane: fold it right and it flies.
    3) Names are exclusions.

  20. Just stumbled upon this site and this page while searching for something else.

    Here are my submissions, copied from my twitter page:

    Marriage: the idea that two women must live together because a man and woman can’t live alone.

    A fight between a man and his ego will always result in a Pyrrhic victory.

    The trouble with the rat race is that even after you win, you still remain an ape.

    Sunday: a day where employed and employers rejuvenate themselves for the dying that the succeeding six days involves.

    Were heart – and not brain – the master of man, true knowledge wouldn’t be impossible to communicate.

    Contest is one thing, I am actually more interested in testing these aphorisms. Cheers!

  21. Daylight Savings: jet lag without travel.

  22. Here’s something a character of mine came up with in a novel I wrote in the ’90s. She was a smart woman – smarter than I – and I always liked this:

    Truth prowls in mansions of wit.

    Thanks for the contest! Another fun one…

    – Shelagh

  23. If the shoe fits, you still have growing to do.

  24. It’s hard to make the best of your cards if you can’t figure out what you’ve been dealt.

  25. Jesus might be the King of everything else, but he is not the King of Pop—that’s Michael Jackson. -Atticus Braud, age 5

    Commercials lie. When you eat Spaghetti-O’s, there is NOT a party in your mouth. -Ellie Braud, age 4

  26. Just because we see Geddafi’s teeth it doesn’t mean he’s smiling…

  27. This made Sgt. Glover laugh when I said it, but that might have just been his constant jubilant mood — a hallmark of all writers.


    “Becoming a man is being able to eat the mushy brown apples”

  28. You know you have succeeded when your boss thinks it’s his idea.

    • “Boss” can be substituted with “lover,” “spouse,” “child,” or “editor.” And probably many other nouns. (And I hereby include this reply/addendum as an aphorism is its own right.)

  29. Nothing is ever easy.

  30. The grass is only greener from one side of the quarantine fence.

  31. When someone says, “It’s a free country,” he is usually misunderstanding the difference between exercising civil liberty and being an asshole.

  32. Adding on to one of Doug’s: names are conclusions with unending paragraphs.

  33. More than one coincidence is more than just coincidence.

  34. Happiness cannot be bought, only advertised.

  35. The problem with reading the best books is that they are the best.

  36. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can lease a wide range of excellent substitutes.

  37. Money can’t buy happiness — god thing, or 400 people would own half the available happiness in the United States.

  38. Money can’t buy happiness, but finally buying your groceries with cash instead of food stamps feels pretty good.

  39. Happiness and money are equally over-rated.

  40. If she scans your face then she could care less.

    (All for you Sgt.)

  41. A cynic loves the world too much to let it get away with less.

  42. Money can’t buy happiness. Happiness works on the barter system.

  43. Money can’t buy happiness; but donations are appreciated.

  44. What’s with this assumption that money can’t buy happiness?

  45. Money buys the components of happiness; some assembly required.

  46. You’re both on a roll with the happiness and money theme. like! like!

  47. “Money buys happiness.”

    Does anyone here know from experience that this isn’t true?

  48. Money can buy happiness — but it’s wildly overpriced, and non-returnable.

  49. No, no … money can’t buy happiness, but the wealthy display an admirable stoicism, dealing every day with the soul-crushing misery of privilege.

  50. The fuzzy math of bad writing: rounding off any thought to the nearest cliche.

  51. Going fractal: when every sentence requires a sentence of elaboration.

  52. The philosopher wonders, “Is it better to ask permission or forgiveness?” and considers each.

    The smartass says, “Can I ask you a question?” and assumes both.

  53. OK, they aren’t mine, but I just ran across these today in Leon Wieseltier’s “Against Identity,” (The New Republic, 11/28/1994). They are nice correctives to David Shields’s (Reality Hunger) recent indulgences:

    Purity is the opposite of integrity.

    Two cheers for identity: it is the enemy of irony.

    It is never long before identity is reduced to loyalty.

    “I love it because it is mine.” This is the language of identity. Properly translated, this means: I do not love it. I love me.

    A = A. Big deal.

  54. Arrogance: often wrong, but never in doubt.

  55. For she who trusts her friends about as far as she can throw them, a steam catapult is a good first step.

  56. The unexamined life is not worth living, so far as we can guess.

  57. Love doesn’t conquer all. Love gets its ass kicked. Love is the wimpy kid in the schoolyard. Love is the prisoner they shoot as an example.

  58. Those who shoot fish in barrels ought to be banned from the use of guns and similes.

  59. There is no “condescending prick” in “team.”

  60. There no greater compliment nor insult than to be accused of ambition––to imply the great potential of present failure.

    • (oops, a few typos/wording to fix.)

      There is no greater compliment nor insult than to be accused of ambition–its implication of great potential for present failure.

  61. If I can’t think of something witty, am I witless?

  62. I have no idea who said this first, but it is one of my favs:

    “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

  63. Decorum is merely another name for lack of courage.

  64. Dissatisfaction is the root of all creation.

  65. Truthfulness is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

  66. Happiness is getting a grant funded.

    (Money can buy happiness)

  67. I can’t find an attribution, but “The problem with drawing a line in the sand is that it’s in the sand.”

  68. “Brevity is the soul of lingerie” Dorothy Parker

  69. “All structure leans toward elegance” Phil Graham. o.O is that up-suckety or what? But in all seriousness, I love that. I have to follow it with “The novel is a machine of desire.” There. Now I’m guaranteed to win, right?

  70. Decorum: respect rendered to ritual.

  71. Oh poo. That’s no fun.

  72. Violence is the answer to all the wrong questions.

  73. In creative accounting one plus one does not necessarily equal two.

  74. Axis of Evil: Goldman Sachs, AIG, Sandy Weill and John Thain’s toilet seat trump Korea, Iraq and Iran.

  75. A political opinion is not necessarily an aphorism.

  76. Leave hydrogen alone for fourteen billion years and this is what happens.

  77. Lessons from the ocean:

    The surf always comes up when you paddle out.
    Move toward what scares you; lean forward when you want to back up.
    Duck under and let the bad stuff go by.
    Figure out how to enjoy life, even when it’s beating you up.
    When in doubt, watch the horizon and wait.

  78. An aphorism is a blue dog tripping through the snow.

  79. Mistaking an artist for the greatness of his or her art is perhaps one of the greatest blunders of attraction.

  80. People who don’t believe in evolution never change.

  81. Faith is to honest intellectual exertion as a rubber girdle is to regular physical exercise.

  82. We believe in the light of dead stars. Love then, should also be attainable.

    If a poet wants his work to be read, he should understand what is essential and what stands as mere testament to perceptions that spin on an invisible axis.

  83. Success is the name mediocrity gives to its own potential.

  84. Prophetic preachers aren’t.

  85. Fate is the child everything that has gone before.

  86. I’d like to submit a revision to the combat picture at the top of this page. In my version the fellow with the sword has traded it for a Bic pen. What with aphoristic pens being mightier than swords and all. Is there an email address I can send it to? Is the pen also mightier than those big hammery things? Stay tuned…

    John Webster variation of the title image

  87. People say “Good Question” when they don’t know the answer.

  88. People say “Take care of yourself” when they’re not planning to.

  89. “Why would I lie?” should never be taken as a rhetorical question.

  90. The Perfect 2nd Annual NC Aphorism will occur to us 1 minute past March 31st.

  91. A deer asleep
    is just as interesting as a sleeping tiger.

    We can all be caged in by what is not a cage.

    Man, so much instinct and nowhere to go.

    Fear: not mindless but spineless.

    Imagination is made of stronger stuff than truth.

    A work ethic, then, plays dominatrix to the weary.

  92. Amusement parks, and water parks in particular, are sociological exhibitions of the collective waste of human potential. Velcro water shoes, tattoos of Dora the Explorer, and the aromatic cocktail of cigarettes, body odor and funnel cakes all support the conclusion that the apocalypse is really for the best.

  93. In the long run, we’re all dead.

  94. Fear can hold a weapon or a hand.

  95. To speak of heaven is to underestimate eternity.

  96. “The radiation leak is quite minimal and completely unharmful,” said the 3-armed Japanese official.

    (I couldn’t find the place to enter my non-aphorism.)

  97. When in doubt about who is right, start by ignoring the ones who are shouting.

  98. The essence of modern alienation: a man crossing to the shady side of the street on the first sunny day of spring, to see the screen of his smart phone.

  99. All religions belittle God in their proud parochiality.

  100. When you close your eyes I feel a little fire going out.

  101. A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. -Thomas Mann

  102. OK, Thomas Mann wins the contest.

    • Yeah; I couldn’t take credit for that, but I’ve always liked it. I submitted two of my own, which probably pale in comparison, but there you have it.

  103. Trying to have a conversation with a pig is a boaring tusk.

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