Empty vessels make the most sound

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Silverobama, Jan 25, 2011.

  1. Silverobama

    Silverobama Senior Member

    Chinese,Cantonese,Sichuan dialect
    Context and Question:

    In this afternoon's class, the teacher introduced a proverb to the class:

    "The empty vessels make the greatest sound".

    He said it meant "Foolish people are the most talkative or noisy" and it was an English proverb, but he didn't tell us how to use it.

    Does it make sense to you and also mean the same to you?

    How I think:

    I looked up the term just now and it turned out to be many versions:

    The/An empty vessels make the greatest/most/loudest sound.

    And most of the results showing this proverb is in current use are Chinese, but here is a quote from wikipedia:

    And now I see now why my teacher was confident with its validity because he also mentioned Shakespeare once used it.

    I don't think this proverb makes too much sense to you, am I right?
  2. slowik Senior Member

    Why wouldn't it make sense? If you took an empty bottle and knocked on it the sound would be louder than if it was full. That makes figurative sense.
    BTW: In Poland we say that a cow that moos a lot doesn't give much milk :)
  3. Harry Batt

    Harry Batt Senior Member

    USA English
    The proverb is seldom used in the USA so far as I can tell. We have a similar proverb, I think he protesteth too much. That is taken right out of Shakespeare and it means that The one who is guilty is the one doing the most talking and denying.
  4. Silverobama

    Silverobama Senior Member

    Chinese,Cantonese,Sichuan dialect
    Thanks a lot

    Literally, it makes much sense. I also did the experiment myself. But the problem is whether it is acceptable in English speaking countries and how is it used. Shouldn't we respect the originality of language?
  5. Silverobama

    Silverobama Senior Member

    Chinese,Cantonese,Sichuan dialect
    Thanks a lot, Harry.

    Long time no see.

    And by the way, I could not find "protesteth" in dictionary.
  6. slowik Senior Member

    It's an old way of saying "protests". Harry's example means "I think he protests too much".
  7. quillerbee Senior Member

    Canadian English
    Certainly, the empty vessels proverb is not extensively used but it is still valid and I think it makes sense. It is broader than "protest too much" as it includes gossips and braggarts as well as the guilt-ridden. There is also the corollary, "Still waters run deep", which I hear much more frequently.
  8. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    It's perhaps not the best known of all English proverbs, but I would say it is one of the better known. I'm not sure that we quote proverbs English all that often in any case, but this proverb is certainly referred to from time to time.

    The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs cites the following fairly recent quotations as examples of usage:
    ‘Empty vessels make the most noise,’ Brock agreed.
    [1982 J. Bingham Brock & Defector xiii.]​
    The adage ‘empty vessels make most noise’ has certainly come to mind as I have listened to other politicians.
    [2002 Times: Register 21 Oct. 10]​
    (By the way, the quotation earlier in the thread referring to "blabbers" is not Plato. It is the 16th c. English writer William Baldwin. Perhaps Plato did use this adage, but not in these words.)
  9. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    It is not used much now. I have not heard it or seen it used in modern English for many years. There are some examples to be found through Google but I found one (on a BBC forum) where an ill-educated forum poster wrote "As the Chinese say, An empty vessel makes the most noise.", but we know that Plato was Greek.

    If used, I would expect "An empty vessel makes (the) most noise". It is not equivalent in meaning to Harry Batt's methinks he doth protesteth too much, which is actually

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Hamlet Act 3, scene 2

    I suggest that you look on it as an interesting but archaic proverb that would be of little use to you in everyday English.

    Well, no, he'd have written in Greek - would that be βλαββερς , or if Google translate is any good φλυαρώ ? :D

    Another edit. In the light of Ewie's subsequent serious moderator's note, by it, I meant the empty vessel proverb, not the Shakespeare (mis)quotation.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2011
  10. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    It's certainly extremely well-known to me, in the form "Empty vessels make the most noise." If I don't use it or hear it often, that may just be because we* are far more tolerant of people who have nothing to say talking endlessly these days, usually on mobile phones, Twitter, etc.

    *I mean 'society'.
  11. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Yes, I've heard it used a fair bit - particularly by me (I include "sound" rather than "noise"). I'll clear off now before I make too much sound .... ;)
  12. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, ewie's form is the one most familiar to me. We had a schoolteacher who always quoted it to us when we were noisy as a class!

    Acceptable? Certainly, I would think. But I agree that English speakers, particularly younger ones, do not use a lot of proverbs in their speech.
  13. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I'm not sure the Hamlet quote is relevant.

    It's said by the Queen, Hamlet's mother, in the middle of what seems to be an extremely turgid play, in which A King and Queen have an extremely turgid conversation, which is meant by Shakespeare to parody inferior playwrights. In a pause, Hamlet asks her how she likes the play, and she says The lady doth protest to much, methinks, which just meant The queen goes on a bit, doesn't she. It's a marvellous point of bathos, just before a terrific climax, for the play within the play turns into an enactment of the murder of Hamlet's father by Claudius, who is watching the play.

    I'm not sure it's got much to do with emply vessels making the most noise.

    I'm not sure this post has much to do with this thread.
  14. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    Me neither, Mr.T. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

    (Serious) moderator note: Could we please try to stick to the subject of the thread rather than wandering off into other proverbs, Middle English verbal endings, Shakespearean turgidity, etc.:)
  15. Silverobama

    Silverobama Senior Member

    Chinese,Cantonese,Sichuan dialect
    Thank you all very much.

    I am reading all your posts attentively and I hope I can learn something new from it.
  16. ewhite

    ewhite Senior Member

    The proverb is quite familiar to me as a speaker of AE, but in a slightly different version:

    Empty barrels make the most noise.
  17. catlady60

    catlady60 Senior Member

    Pennsylvania (20mi/36km from the Poconos
    English-US (New York City)
    My rewording: Empty heads make the most racket.

    In other words, stupid people scream the loudest--and never shut up!
  18. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    I suspect that "vessel" for a hollow container is declining toward obsolescence, understood by the well-read but not used except in proverbs and fixed phrases. Versions employing more currently used words, like "bottle" or "barrel," are more likely to be understood and to sound up-to-date.
  19. Silverobama

    Silverobama Senior Member

    Chinese,Cantonese,Sichuan dialect

    Definitely, I can't agree more.

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