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

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 20 12:28:50 EDT 2017


Here's what Rep. Wilson said this morning on CNN's "New Day":

http://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2017/10/20/frederica-wilson-john-kelly-empty-barrel-newday.cnn
"That’s a racist term -- thinking about that, we looked it up in the
dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don’t like to
be dragged into something like that."

So she and her staff consulted a dictionary, but I'm not sure if her
statement implies that the dictionary in question labeled the expression
racially offensive. I can't find any dictionary that does so.


On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 12:01 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>
wrote:

> Rep. Wilson averred on CNN yesterday that the proverb is "racist."
>
> She'd never heard it before, however.
>
> JL
>
> On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 11:31 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > 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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