Austin's Rules of Thumb

Avoid aphorisms.

Many Chinese student writers begin their essays with aphorisms: proverb-like statements conveying a piece of universal wisdom, i.e. “something we all know.”

Aphorisms sound like this: "Only if you put all of yourself into doing something can you be good at it." Or:  "There is no denying that learning a language takes enthusiasm and persistence." 

In Chinese, beginning a paragraph or an essay with an aphorism will make you sound wise and sophisticated, like Lu Xun. In English, beginning with an aphorism will make you sound pretentious. The reader will think: “Oh yeah? Who says? Are you God?” It doesn’t make you sound wise at all—it just makes it sound like you’re pretending to be wise.


  • try to sound wise. Tell us what you believe, not what you think everybody believes or should believe.