1520s, "concise statement of a principle" (especially in reference to the "Aphorisms of Hippocrates"), from Middle French aphorisme (corrected from Old French aufforisme, 14c.), from Late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos "definition; short, pithy sentence," from aphorizein "to mark off, divide," from apo "from" (see apo-) + horizein "to bound" (see horizon).
General sense of "short, pithy statement containing a truth of general import" (e.g. "life is short, and art is long") is from 1580s in English. Distinguished from an axiom, which is a statement of self-evident truth; an epigram is like an aphorism, but lacking in general import. Maxim and saying can be used as synonyms for aphorism, but maxims tend to be practical and sayings tend to be more commonplace and have an author's name attached.