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Epigram

Definition

An epigram is a type of poem that is characterized by brevity and cleverness. It focuses on a single idea and expresses a surprising thought in just a few words.

Typically consisting of rhymed couplets or quatrains that have unexpected conclusions, epigrams may also be one-line and non-rhyming quips. Terse observations like Oscar Wilde’s many witty statements are good examples of non-rhyming epigrams.

The epigram originated in ancient Greece as a poetic inscription on a statue or monument, and brevity was not a requirement as it is now. A clever conclusion was common but not obligatory. As a written literary genre that spread to Rome and later throughout Europe, it became more satirical and typically ended with a joke. The epigram in its modern form is considered to have been created in the first century AD by Martial, a Roman poet who composed twelve books of poems in the genre. 

A very short, ironic and witty poem usually written as a brief couplet or quatrain. The term is derived from the Greek epigramma meaning inscription.


[n] a witty saying

Example

Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she's at rest — and so am I.
— John Dryden

I am His Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
— Alexander Pope

Little strokes
Fell great oaks.
— Benjamin Franklin

Related Information

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Synonyms

quip