Welcome to the World of Ifferisms

An aphorism (AFF-uhr-IZ-uhm) attempts to communicate a truth about the human experience, always in a succinct or pithy manner, and often with a dash of wit. A number of years ago, I began to notice that many of history's most memorable aphorisms were introduced by the word "if." It occurs in many biblical passages:

If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

—The Bible (Mark 3:25)

If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

It is at the heart of some of the modern era's most thought-provoking observations:

If you want to live a happy life tie it to a goal, not to people or objects.

—Albert Einstein

If the only tool you have is a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail.

—Abraham Maslow

If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.

—Virginia Woolf

If the world were a logical place, men would ride side-saddle.

—Rita Mae Brown

If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day.

—Molly Ivins, on a Texas politician

In Ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin With the Word "If," I present nearly 2,000 quotations that begin with the biggest little word in the English language: "if." Playing off the term aphorism, I've coined the term ifferism to describe such sayings. Technically, ifferisms are examples of hypothetical, counterfactual, or conditional thinking (I explain these terms in a simple, down-to-earth manner in the introductory chapter). In chapters on sex, love, sports, politics, advice, gender dynamics, and more, you will find observations from all the usual suspects—Twain, Wilde, Shaw, Emerson, and Franklin—as well as scores of contemporary wits and wordsmiths. And alongside history's most famous sayings, you will also find—and often learn the fascinating story behind—such modern classics as "If you build it, they will come" and "If anything can go wrong, it will."