Why are aphorisms so annoying?

Some aphorisms are charming,

An apple a day keeps the doctor away,

but too often they are annoying. Here’s a typical example from Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes:

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

Here is apparently a one-sentence book review that Rota reprints as the final line of his Indiscrete Thoughts:

When pygmies cast such long shadows, it must be very late in the day.

What it is about such remarks? First of all they seem drenched in ego. On the surface, of course, the aphorism is a timeless truth with no connection to the author; but we know who he is really talking about. The brevity itself begins to feel like part of the egomania. The author affects to be so cool, so busy with more important projects, that he has just a moment to toss a piece of wisdom at us as he flies by.

I try for my own notes to be a little more sincere, and, to put it bluntly, a little longer. But it’s possible that Taleb and Rota think they are being sincere too.

[21 January 2022]

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