Like many other phrases, the origin of this phrase also lies in the mist of time. It is reported that it has links with some other versions of the proverb, dating back to Egyptian history. However, its first example in English was its use by Thomas Carlyle, a poet who translated it from German to English in his novel Sartor Resartus (“The Tailor Retailored”). In the novel, it reads as “Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (“Speech is silvern, Silence is golden”); or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.” One of the characters speaks these lines, by which he means that discretion could be more important than eloquence.
The meaning of this phrase is that silence needs authority of mind and a specific type of power; to keep silent is not easier than expressing anger, love, happiness, and betrayal with words. This phrase is the part of a proverb, “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” We use it in such circumstances where it is considered that silence is preferable to speaking. Just like gold, in a right time and place, silence lends grandeur and charm to human lives. It is like an ornament, which is enduring and has unparalleled beauty.
These days, the fuller version of this phrase, “speech is silver; silence is golden” is frequently used, though the shorter form, “silence is golden” is more common. For instance, lovers prefer to speak in silence, as it is a more romantic and famous way of telepathy between those who share strong and powerful feelings of love. Sometimes silence can play a great role, like huge wars were stopped due to just a few words, avoiding unnecessary words that might have hurt others.
Similarly, when two close friends meet after a long time, they could say many things — sharing complaints, secrets, questions, and much more. However, the very first thing they often share is silence. Thus, it justifies that speech is less significant than silence, as it lets us know about our inner selves.
This phrase is used by Thomas Carlyle in his novel, where he tells about virtues and of silence. It goes on as, “Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together, into the daylight of Life… Speech too is great, but not the greatest. As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (“Speech is silvern, Silence is golden”); or as I might rather express it: “Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.”
When we are silent and waiting, something great inside us keeps on growing, and silence gives birth to creativity, moreover the more we keep ourselves silent, the less our hearts will be hurt. In the past, silence would be a great way of communication, and more effective than speaking. For instance, often, a silent but angry look from our parents is enough to communicate their disapproval or fury; and it can make us behave in a much better way than harsh scolding. It simply tells us that, when we remain silent and wait, something great keeps us growing, and gives us creativity.
- Metaphor: Gold is used as a metaphor for silence.
Speech is silver, silence is golden
Posted by ESC on June 11, 2003
In Reply to: "Silence is golden." posted by EE on June 11, 2003
: Am I right that there is more to this expression with something like "Speech is silver but silence is golden." or something like that?
SPEECH IS SILVER, SILENCE IS GOLDEN - "The value placed upon saying less, rather than more, as reflected in this proverb can be traced as far back as the early Egyptians, who recorded one such saying: 'Silence is more profitable than abundance of speech.' The current proverb was rendered for the first time in the Judaic Biblical commentaries called the 'Midrash' (c. 600), which gave the proverb as 'If speech is silvern, then silence is golden.' The poet Thomas Carlyle quoted this version in German in 'Sartor Resartus' , and soon after, the American poet James Russell Lowell quoted the exact wording of the modern version in the 'The Bigelow Papers' . Perhaps more familiar in the shortened version 'Silence is golden,' the saying has been quoted in print frequently during the twentieth century. One witty adaptation in Brian Aldiss's 'The Primal Urge' seems particularly appropriate to modern times: "Speech is silver; silence is golden; print is dynamite.'." From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).
From William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet": "How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night, Like softest music to attending ears!"