A maxim refers to a basic rule of conduct or principle that's generally accepted as truth, or it may refer to a succinct saying of such rule or principle. Maxims, such as "the bigger the better" and "opposites attract," are brief, forceful and witty.
Maxims that contradict each other are known as dueling maxims. For instance, a wise person may say that "you're never too old to learn," but another may say that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." A cautious person believes in the saying that "it's better to be safe than sorry," whereas a risk taker could counter it with "nothing ventured, nothing gained." A maxim is often believable by itself as long as no other maxims challenge it.
Though they also appear in writing, a maxim is primarily a tool in oral communication for relaying one's wisdom and learning. A maxim often sounds smart and is easy to memorize because it employs a certain rhetorical strategy, figurative language or grammatical structure. These include ellipses, hyperbole, paradox and parallelism. Because it validates the speaker's extent of his experience and knowledge, a maxim is also effective in persuasion. In enthymemes, or arguments that omit certain elements of truths in their logic, a maxim can appear as either the premise or conclusion.