[Ads-l] Query from CNN: "An empty barrel makes the most sound."

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 20 11:31:31 EDT 2017


There are various attributions of an earlier version of the proverb to
Plato, often of the form, "As empty vessels make the loudest sound, so they
that have least wit are the greatest babblers." I can't find that in Plato,
but Plutarch's "Morals" has: "Talkative people... resemble empty vessels,
and go about making much noise."

https://books.google.com/books?id=8gTgAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA214


On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 11:30 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole <
adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:

> There is a pertinent entry in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of
> Proverbs. The text below contains optical charactr recognition errors.
> Also, the spelling in older entries is non-standard. So the text
> should be double checked.
>
> [Begin excerpt]
> EMPTY vessels make the most sound
> Foolish or witless persons are the most talkative or noisy; also used
> of achievement (see quot. 1932).
> Vessel here means a receptacle, as a drinking-vessel.
>
> 1430 Pilgrimage of Man (EETS) l. 15933 A voyde vessel .. maketh
> outward a gret soun, Mor than ..
> what yt was ful.
>
> 1547 Treatise of Moral Philosophy IV. Q4 As emptye vesselles make the
> lowdest sounde: so they that
> haue least wyt, are the greatest babblers.
>
> 1599 Henry V IV. iv. 64 I did never know so full a voice issue from so
> empty a heart: but the saying is true
> —The empty vessel makes the greatest sound.
>
> 1707 Essay on Faculties of Mind I. 249 Empty Vessels sound loudest.
>
> 1932 Harbourmaster ii. ‘You think we don't show up too well in the
> test?’.. ‘Oh, dear, no. It is the empty vessel that makes the most
> noise.’
>
> 1967 English Proverbs Explained 51 Empty vessels make the most sound.
>
> 1982 Brock & Defector xiii. ‘All talk and no action ..’. ‘Empty
> vessels make the most noise,’ Brock agreed.
> [End excerpt]
>
> On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 11:09 AM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at mst.edu>
> wrote:
> > Dear members of ads-l,
> >
> >
> > Below my signoff is a request for assistance from CNN editor Chris
> >
> > Cillizza about "An empty barrel makes the most sound."  Can anyone
> >
> > provide him with any information?  Garson?
> >
> >
> > Gerald Cohen
> >
> > cc. Barry Popik (with the extraordinary website barrypopik.com)
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > ________________________________
> > From: Cillizza, Chris <Chris.Cillizza at cnn.com>
> > Sent: Friday, October 20, 2017 8:21 AM
> > To: Cohen, Gerald Leonard
> > Subject: Help!
> >
> >
> > Professor Cohen,
> >
> >
> >
> > I am trying to nail down the origins – and usages – of the phrase “an
> empty barrel makes the most sound.”
> >
> >
> >
> > Trump chief of staff John Kelly used the phrase to describe Florida Rep.
> Frederica Wilson on Thursday. On Friday, Congresswoman Wilson said the term
> was “racist.”
> >
> >
> >
> > I’m trying to navigate through the politics of all that to figure out
> how the phrase entered the language and what it might mean.
> >
> >
> >
> > Any guidance is much appreciated.
> >
> > Chris
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> >
> > Chris Cillizza
> >
> > The Point
> >
> > CNN, Editor-at-large
> >
> > @cillizzacnn
> >
>

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