But none of the aphorisms on the list is the aphorism I am looking for. You know the feeling that there is an aphorism that's already out there for something you're trying to say in aphorism form. You can say it briefly, but not in the words that must be in the aphorism.
Here's as close as I can get to saying what seems to me to be a rough paraphrase for a reasonably well-known aphorism: He who lies about small things will lie about big things. Or: Little lies foretell big lies.
What I'm looking for is the "Where there's smoke, there's fire" of lying.
There should be a word for the feeling that there is already an aphorism for the idea that you could express in your own words. That feeling inhibits the composition of one's own new aphorism. I mean, if you were trying to remember the aphorism "Where there's smoke, there's fire" and instead wrote the notion up in your own snappy words, it would never replace "Where there's smoke, there's fire." "Where there's smoke, there's fire" is so perfectly apt. Hence the inhibition.
It's a separate question whether the idea expressed in the aphorism I'm looking for is actually true. I did find this old Metafilter question, asked by a woman who worried her husband's little lies. She expressed certainty that he wasn't lying about anything big (like infidelity), but she was catching many little lies, such as the fact that he'd said he'd carry a bag lunch to work, when in fact he ate at a restaurant. She also worried about her own worrying, since her husband was "a wonderful, patient, generous guy who treats me well and loves me more than anything," and she didn't want to be like the "extremely controlling parent" he grew up with and who probably caused him to develop a habit of telling little lies.
I thought of another aphorism in the vicinity of what I'm searching for: "Don't sweat the small stuff." Do little things not matter? Or can we tell something important about a person by the way they handle the details?
"God is in the details"... right? Or is it "The Devil is in the details"? Maybe if I knew which of those 2 expressions is the right one, I'd know the answer to the question whether the idea expressed in the searched-for little-lies aphorism is true. Interestingly, both "God is in the details" and "The Devil is in the details" have their own Wikipedia page.
According to the "God" page, "God is in the details" (or "detail") seems to date back to Gustave Flaubert (written in French), and the Devil version is a variant. Satisfyingly, the "Devil" page backs up the theory that God came first.
Google's n-gram function reveals that the phrase "the devil is in the details" does not appear in print before ca. 1975.Flaubert died in 1880, and it's quite clear that "God is in the detail" was often attributed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who died in 1969. Perhaps it was around 1975 that we began to lose our veneration for detail, the sense that the little things mattered. Now, to fret over details is prissy and fussy. You're a stickler. A controlling parent. A person who sweats the small stuff is... sweaty.
There's this, which I quoted the other day:
Wittgenstein once said that the following bit of verse by Longfellow could serve him as a motto:The quote is from that book "On Bullshit," which I've been reading and which actually isn't the origin of this morning's search for an aphorism. The origin of that is a discussion we had yesterday about someone — nobody you know.
In the elder days of art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part,
For the Gods are everywhere.
IN THE COMMENTS: JackOfVA and Kit Carson come up with what I'm sure I was trying to think of: "Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus" ("False in one thing, false in everything").