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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.

Epigram Poem 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

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Other Epigram Definition

[n] a witty saying



See Also...

expression, locution, saying

Misc. Definitions

\Ep"i*gram\, n. [L. epigramma, fr. Gr. ? inscription, epigram, fr. ? to write upon, 'epi` upon + ? to write: cf. F. ['e]pigramme. See {Graphic}.]
1. A short poem treating concisely and pointedly of a single thought or event. The modern epigram is so contrived as to surprise the reader with a witticism or ingenious turn of thought, and is often satirical in character. Dost thou think I care for a satire or an epigram? --Shak. Note: Epigrams were originally inscription on tombs, statues, temples, triumphal arches, etc.
2. An effusion of wit; a bright thought tersely and sharply expressed, whether in verse or prose.
3. The style of the epigram. Antithesis, i. e., bilateral stroke, is the soul of epigram in its later and technical signification. --B. Cracroft.

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