About Ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin with the Word "If"

Hardcover edition: 2009
Publisher: HarperCollins

Ifferisms is my fifth "word & language" book in the past ten years. All of the books—while quite different from each other—have one thing in common: they all celebrate my love of words and language. This book is an anthology of aphorisms that all begin with the word "if." I've coined the word ifferisms for these wonderful creations, and you will find nearly 2,000 of them in the book. First, though, a brief word about aphorisms.

An aphorism is a succinctly phrased observation that attempts to express a truth—or sometimes just an opinion—about the human experience. "An aphorism is a one-line novel," says the Ukrainian writer Leonid Sukhorukov. The American writer Stefan Kanfer adds: "The aphorism is a personal observation inflated into a universal truth, a private posing as a general." History's greatest thinkers and writers have viewed the aphorism as a powerful tool, and their aphoristic efforts have such a long and distinguished history in the human experience that Samuel Taylor Coleridge said of them:

The largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms.

I've been collecting aphorisms since I was an undergraduate at the University of North Dakota in the 1960s. But it wasn't until twenty-or-so years later that I began to notice that many of history's most memorable aphorisms had one interesting thing in common:

If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

—The Bible (Matthew 15:14)

If we have not peace within ourselves, it is vain to seek it from outward sources.

—rançois de la Rochefoucauld

If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how.

—Friedrich Nietzsche

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

—Scottish Proverb

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.

—Booker T. Washington

At first, I simply referred to them as "iffy" quotations, but as the number in my personal collection grew from the hundreds to the thousands, I began to refer to them as ifferisms. As the years have passed, my thinking about them has also evolved and my appreciation for them has deepened. I now understand the critical role that the simple word if plays in the way we think about the world and in the way we describe it to others. If is, in my opinion, the biggest little word in the human language. And it is an essential tool when people engage in what is called hypothetical or counterfactual thinking, or when they make what your high school English teacher called conditional statements (I explore all of these concepts in a down-to-earth way in the book).

The intended audience for this book is the same as for my other books—it's for quotation lovers as well as for people who enjoy wordplay and ideaplay. If this description fits you, I think you'll enjoy the book. And if you know such a person, it could be the perfect gift for the word and language lover in your life.

Praise for the Book

Prior to the publication of Ifferisms, we received some heartwarming advance praise from a number of respected writers & wordsmiths:

If I had any sense, I'd have thought of Ifferisms and gotten it into print before Dr. Grothe.

—Robert Byrne, compiler of The 2,548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said

A flat-out wonderful and vastly entertaining book! You'll be surprised and delighted to discover how much of the world's wit and wisdom has been encapsulated in single sentences beginning with the word 'if.' If you don't read Ifferisms, you're missing out on something very special.

—Leonard Roy Frank, editor of Random House Webster's Quotationary (1998)

If you are eager to imbibe the most life-altering collection of conditional wisdom ever collected and presented, then, by all means, read Ifferisms.

—Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English

A fantastic collection of possibilities and prospects—You'll never look at the word 'if' the same way again!

—Erin McKean, editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary and Verbatim magazine

I always suspected that much wisdom is conditional, but I never suspected how much until I read Ifferisms. Dr. Mardy Grothe has come up with another irresistible anthology.

—Barbara Wallraff, syndicated columnist and author of Word Court

Dr. Mardy Grothe's latest 'word & language' book should be an exciting voyage of discovery for committed readers.

—Richard Nordquist

If you need a gift to put in your horse's mouth, look no further.

—Joe Dolce, Joe Dolce Weekly Newsletter

IF you'll take my advice, you'll head for Amazon and swIFtly order your copy of Ifferisms.

—Bob Kelly, The KellyGram

For fans of quotes, humor and life-enhancing philosophy, Dr. Mardy Grothe has done it again.

—John Busbee, The Culture Buzz

If you buy only one quote book all year, make this the one.

—Jason Zasky, Failure Magazine

As a fellow quote collector, I yield to the master and recommend his latest in the same manner he has spoken to my groups, with great enthusiasm.

—Bud Carter, Vistage, International

Table of Contents

I don't know about you, but I hate to buy a book without perusing the table of contents. If you're similarly inclined, this should help:

Chapter 1: If Anything Can Go Wrong, It Will (Classic Ifferisms)
Chapter 2: If It Bends, It's Funny; If It Breaks, It Isn't (Wit & Wordplay)
Chapter 3: If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me (Words to Live By)
Chapter 4: If Men Could Learn From History, What Lessons it Might Teach Us (The Human Condition)
Chapter 5: If You Can't Be Kind, At Least Be Vague (Not-so-Iffy Advice)
Chapter 6: If You Rest, You Rust (Ages & Stages of Life)
Chapter 7: If His IQ Slips Any Lower, We'll Have to Water Him Twice a Day (Critical & Insulting Ifferisms)
Chapter 8: If the World Were a Logical Place, Men Would Ride Side-Saddle (Gender Dynamics)
Chapter 9: If You Want to Have a Friend, Be a Friend (Human Relationships)
Chapter 10: If I Don't Do It Everyday, I Get a Headache (Sex, Love, & Romance)
Chapter 11: If You Marry for Money, You Will Earn Every Penny (Marriage, Home, & Family Life)
Chapter 12: If Winning Isn't Everything, Why Do They Keep Score? (Sports)
Chapter 13: If You Want a Friend in Washington, D.C., Get a Dog (Politics and Government)
Chapter 14: If You Can't Do Anything Else, There's Always Acting (Stage & Screen)
Chapter 15: If You're Not Fired with Enthusiasm, You'll be Fired with Enthusiasm (The World of Business & Management)
Chapter 16: If You Add to the Truth, You Subtract From It (Oxymoronic & Paradoxical Ifferisms)
Chapter 17: If Passion Drives, Let Reason Hold the Reins (Metaphorical Ifferism)
Chapter 18: If You Can't Annoy Somebody, There is Little Point in Writing (The Literary Life)