Last week there was a bit of nonsense in the news when some politician called another politician and “empty barrel” making the most noise. I do know the names of all parties involved, but we’re not here for the politics so why get into it? The comment probably would have gone unnoticed, like so many idioms might, if it were not for the fact that woman on the receiving end of the comment immediately said, “That’s racist.”
Many people, myself among them, would be quick to point out that it’s not racist, it’s Shakespeare. Henry V, Act IV Scene 4:
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.’
I even repeated on Twitter that Shakespeare is the source of this quote. But, for the record, he’s not. It even says so right there in context if I’d been paying attention — “the saying is true”. It was already a saying when Shakespeare wrote it down.
The saying seems to date all the way back to Plato, although I can’t find any specific references as of yet. Anybody got one, so we can make it official?
What I’m finding interesting is that the more I look into it the more I’m not sure I know what it was originally supposed to mean. These days it’s used to imply that the people without anything intelligent to say (the empty barrels) are precisely the ones that won’t shut up. But I’m not sure that’s what Plato would have meant? I could just as easily imagine it as more complimentary — “The person who is always open to learning new things is the one who will make the biggest impact in the world.” That’s pretty much the opposite.
There’s supposedly a second half to the quote, “So they that have the least wit are the greatest blabbers,” which would clearly suggest the first meaning is the intended one. But I learned a long time ago not to simply believe something is true because it shows up in a quotes database on the internet.
Saw “A light heart lives long” today and immediately thought, “Nah, that doesn’t sound like Shakespeare.” Did some quick googling and it looks like something more in the “old Irish proverb” category (“Maireann croí éadrom i bhfad.“)
I wonder if somebody confused “drums of war” for “dogs of war” when they attributed this quote to Julius Caesar? Nothing about this quote shows up in the play, of course. I suppose there’s at least some possibility that it appears in actual Caesar’s actual writings, since I’m not an expert in those. But others before me have researched this question and apparently nope, not real Caesar either. This quote doesn’t appear to exist before 2001.
It’s odd, to say the least, to find a passage attributed to Julius Caesar (born 100 B.C., died 44 B.C.) that never appeared anywhere in print before 2001. It’s equally odd that while the quotation is cited in dozens of Internet discussions concerning post-9/11 political developments, it never turns up in any articles or books about Julius Caesar himself. If it’s to be found among his own writings, no one has yet been able to pinpoint where.
I also think it’s funny that we get to credit a specific person for incorrectly assigning this one to Shakespeare — Barbra Streisand!? Quick, what’s the difference between Barbra Streisand and every quote-collecting message board on the Internet? Streisand acknowledged she was wrong.
I saw this quote race through multiple versions on Reddit earlier today, and obviously no one really cares to attribute it correctly since I don’t expect anybody truly believes that Shakespeare said it. There’s nothing about this that suggests Shakespeare. In fact, it’s quite easy to find it attributed both to Abraham Lincoln as well as “ancient Chinese wisdom” if those make you think it’s got more or less credibility.
“If you love and get hurt, love more.
If you love more and hurt more, love even more.
If you love even more and get hurt even more, love some more until it hurts no more…”
No. Just, no.
I saw this on a page attributed to Shakespeare, on top of a picture of Christopher Marlowe no less.
As always, it’s in several databases attributed to WS but never with an actual play or sonnet or poem. So, no. It’s not Shakespeare. Shakespeare never used the expression “get hurt”, and rarely did he directly speak in second person like that as if he the author is talking to someone.
If anybody can actually show me some variation of this quote that makes it into Shakespeare, I’ll happily update this post. But I don’t think you’re going to find anything close.
Something new! I’d not seen this one before, and had to go look it up. Sounds a little bit like Shakespeare, but I don’t know, something about the meter (DUH da DUH da DUH da DUH) was too bouncy to be Shakespeare’s style, even in the long poems where sometimes quotes hide that don’t have the same feeling as those that come from the plays.
Anyway, this one is from William Blake if Google Books is any indicator:
First we have the answer that, “William Blake borrowed it from Shakespeare, who wrote it in one of his sonnets.” No mention of which sonnet, of course, and it’s not iambic pentameter. It’s very easy to check and cite references. But under “source” the person wrote, “I am a Shakespeare teacher.” Just not a good one I guess.
The second bit of genius comes from the well-meaning person who writes, “I searched and couldn’t find it as anything but a quote so maybe it’s something he never wrote down, only said.” That’s not the first time I’ve heard that, and it conjures up this hysterical image in my brain of the town drunk passing down his story over the centuries. “So there I am, sitting next to the Bard of Avon himself William Shakespeare, telling him my problems with women. And you know what he does? He turns to me and says, he says, ‘Love to faults is always blind, always is to joy inclined.’ And I says to him I says, ‘Pal, you need to write that down.’ Well I guess he plum forgot because it doesn’t show up in any of his recorded works, but I swear to you, he said it. I was there.” Imagine Bill Murray telling his Dalai Lama story in Caddyshack. 🙂
Also “The earth has music for those who will listen,” “The earth has its music for those who listen,” and so on.
This one is easily mistaken as Shakespeare because the words remind us of “If music be the food of love play on” while the sentiment closely echoes Caliban’s “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”
However, this one is George Santayana:
“The earth has its music for those who will listen,
Its bright variations forever abound;
With all the wonders that God has bequeathed us,
There is nothing that thrills like the magic of sound.”
UPDATED September 8, 2014: I was asked to provide a citation that this is Santayana. And you know what? I can’t. It’s quite possible that this quote has fallen victim to that same logic that gets us so many “Not by Shakespeare” quotes, where you find a couple of blogs saying something so it must be true. I can’t speak for the entirety of Santayana’s work but I can safely say that it’s definitely not in Shakespeare’s work. If anybody can cite exactly where it occurs, we’d all be very grateful!
As I work on ShakeShare, my Shakespeare Quotes app for the iPhone, I’m constantly scanning for new quotes. It is, as you might imagine, very important to me to cite every quote correctly. How could I look myself in the mirror if I let a Not By Shakespeare slip in there?
Today I found this one. Honestly I don’t even understand it. And I am a father to a son. 🙂
All I can find are references to this one as a “Jewish proverb.” Anybody got a definitive database of those??