Epigram is a figure of speech in which there is a shocking contradiction in the apparent meaning of an expression
or statement, but there is an underlying significance.
The term ‘epigram’ was originally used by the Greeks in the sense ‘inscription’. Afterwards, it was given as a title to any short poem, expressing, precisely and pointedly, a single thought. In modern times, though the name is still used for short pointed poems, the common practice is to mean by ‘epigram’ any ingenious or sharp saying in prose or verse. Any ingenious or sharp saying has the power to rouse one’s interest in its inner meaning. Generally, the attention of a hearer or reader is drawn to something deeper or inner by means of an apparent contradiction in
the language used. The figurative expression, which rouses one’s attention to some inner meaning, is known as Epigram.
(i) The child is the father of man. -Wordsworth
This is an epigram. Here the language contradicts itself, for how a child can be the father of a man. Yet, there is an inner meaning, which is roused by the shock caused by the contradiction. The inner meaning suggests that the child of today will be the creator of the future man (or the maker of the future generation).
(ii) No man teaches well, who wants to teach. -Ruskin.
This is an epigram. Here, a contradiction exists in the apparent meaning of the expression, for how ‘that man who wants to teach’ cannot teach well. This shocking expression, however, contains an underlying sense and aptly suggests the failure of those who pride on their ability of teaching.
(iii) A favourite has no friend.
Here, the contradiction is that one, who is a favourite, is never liked by others.
(iv) He makes no friend who has never made a foe. -Tennyson
This suggests that the man, who has no foe, has really no true friend.
(v) Silence is sometimes more eloquent than words.