Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘The Railroad Trainman’

An Empty Wagon Makes A Lot Of Noise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 9, 2018

When someone says an empty wagon makes a lot of noise it means people who know very little to nothing on a subject often talk the most on said subject. It also means that people tend to talk a lot about nothing pretending all of that nothing is something. In a nutshell, those who are most ignorant are oftentimes also the most vocal and opinionated.

To be noted, the expression also appears as an empty barrel makes a lot of noise and an empty vessel makes a lot of noise (both of which are facts).

Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., published an article in April 2013 written by Canadian B2B sales veteran Tibor Shanta. The article was titled, “An Empty Wagon – Sales eXchange 194.” The opening paragraph began with this.

We have all heard the expression that an empty wagon makes the most noise, no doubt from an older relative trying to tell us that we were talking a lot, saying very little of substance, worth hearing, or had as near the level of impact as the noise we were making saying it. Well, I can tell you that there are a lot of empty wagons when it comes to sales and sellers, usually in lack of substance or delivering on the hype.

The March 1920 edition of “Etude: The Music Magazine” ran a regular column by W. Francis Gates (18 March 1865 – 22 December 1941) titled, “Pianographs.” The column shared witty bits of wisdom including this one:

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Aside from being an excellent musician and a respected music teacher, he was also a music critic for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

In last week’s entry about loaded wagons going quietly, the empty wagon was also addressed in the article found in “The Railroad Trainman” magazine.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

Volume 65 of “The Unitarian Register” of January 7, 1886 published in Boston by magazine editor Samuel J. Barrows had a regular feature titled, “Brevities.” In this feature, the expression was found as a shared comment from another publication.

A writer in the Herald of Gospel Liberty thinks that “noise is no sign of spiritual power. Men who make so much noise on their way to the heavenly city should be watched closely, for ‘an empty wagon makes the most noise.'”

Wagon seems to have been substituted for vessel in the early 1800s as found in “A Dictionary of the English and Italian Languages: Volume II” compiled by Italian literary critic, poet, writer, translator, linguist and author Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti (24 April 1719 – 5 May 1789) and published in 1797. Under the entry for empty the following is found.

The concept of an empty vessel making the loudest noise was found in the “Dictionaire royal, françois-anglais et anglois-françois: tiré des meilleurs Auteurs qui on écrit dans ces deux Langues” compiled by French-English lexicographer, journalist and writer Abel Boyer (24 June 1667 – 16 November 1729) and published in 1700. Under the entry for empty readers find:

EMPTY Adj.
Ex. An Empty Glass, Un verre vide
An Empty Vessel, Un tonneau vide
P. Empty Vessels make the greatest Noise, Les tonneaux vides font le plus de bruit.

In the preface of his book, B0yer states that when a P is used in the work, it refers to a proverb or a proverbial expression. Dictionaries state that proverbs are short sayings that express a truth based on common sense or cultural experience, and are considered formulaic language.

Indeed, William Baldwin used the expression in his book, “A Treatise of Morall Phylosophie, contaynyng the sayinges of the wyse gathered and Englished by Wylm Baldwin” published in 1547 by Edward Whitchurch. Over time the title has been shortened to “A Treatise of Moral Philosophy” however the original title indicates the expression was not of his own making. In his work, the saying was expressed in this way.

As empty vessels make the loudest sound; so they that have least wit are the greatest babblers.

He may have borrowed the thought from English poet John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) who wrote a similar thought in his 1426 tome titled, “Pilgrimage of Man, Englished by John Lydgage, from the French of Guillaume de Deguilleville 1330.”

A voyde vessel maketh outward a gret sound, mor than what yt was ful.

INTERESTING NOTE 2: The work John Lydgate translated from French into English was “Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine” written and published by French Cistercian and writer Guillaume d’Eguilleville (1295 – 1358) at Chaalis Abbey 40 kilometers north of Paris, at Fontaine-Shaalix, near Ermenonville, now in Oise, in 1330.

INTERESTING NOTE 3: The Chaalis Abbey was founded on 10 January 1137 by Louis VI and in memory of Charles the Good (1084 – 2 March 1127), Count of Flanders, who was assassinated in Bruges thanks to the powerful Erembald family. It was consecrated in 1219 by Brother Guerin, Bishop of Beauvais.

INTERESTING NOTE 4: Charles the Good, also known as Charles I, was the son of King Canute IV (1042 – 10 July 1086) of Denmark and Adela of Flanders (1064 – April 1115). King Canute IV was assassinated in Odense Cathedral in 1086.

INTERESTING NOTE 5: Adela of Flanders was the daughter of Robert I, Count of Flanders, also known as Robert the Frisian (1035–1093) and Gertrude of Saxony (1030 – 4 August 1113). The marriage forged an alliance between Flanders and Denmark against William the Conqueror (1028 – 9 September 1087).

Some attribute the saying to Greek philosopher Plato however no source could be found to prove the claim other than what was written by English preacher and publisher David Thomas  (1813 – 1894) in “The Homilist” published in 1866. David Thomas attributed the quote William Baldwin’s quote to Plato but did not give the source supporting his claim, and it’s the William Baldwin quote that’s bandied about as being written by Plato.

Idiomation, however, did find the Kashmiri proverb which translates to say empty vessels make much noise.

INTERESTING NOTE 6: Kashmir is in northern India, and located mostly in the Himalayan mountains. It shares borders with Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. The Kashmiri are an ethnic group native to the Kashmir Valley.

Contrary to what U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (Democrat – Florida) claimed in late October 2017, whether it’s an empty wagon, vessel, or barrel, it’s not a racist expression, even if she claims she “looked it up in the dictionary because [she] had never heard of an empty barrel.”

Idiomation tracked the variation of the expression to 1330 with a nod to the Kashmiri proverb for which Idiomation could not find an exact date other than it precedes the 1330 date of Guillaume d’Eguilleville.

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Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 14th Century, Kashmir, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Loaded Wagon Makes No Noise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 4, 2018

The figurative meaning of saying a loaded wagon makes no noise is that people of means and good intentions don’t talk about their finances, their holdings, or the good deeds they do. In other words, bragging isn’t something someone engages in if they are of good character.

Literally speaking, a light wagon with no suspension and post-spoking rattles, shakes, and bounces over every slight imperfection, with the empty bed acting as a soundboard. In contrast, a loaded wagon is less likely to be shaking over every pebble on the path, and is muffled and dramatically quieter.

In the figurative sense, Volume 30 of “The Railroad Trainman” published in July 1913 made this point as it pertains to men and women in the work environment. The article was titled “Too Much Busy-Ness” and addressed the issue of women who made a lot of noise about their various committee meetings and convention addresses and other charitable acts.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

The woman of real executive ability goes about her duties quietly; she has mentally organized her work. Whether she moves about in her own house or engages in outside endeavors, she is calm and composed — and effective.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: This monthly magazine was published in Cleveland, Ohio by the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen located at 1207 American Trust Building, and under the watchful eye of the Editor and Manager, D.L. Cease. The yearly subscription price was $1.00 per year, payable in advance.

In Volume 8 of the magazine “The Florida School Journal” published in June 1895, the section titled “School Buildings” found on page 20 made use of the expression. The magazine’s editor and publisher was V.E. Orr and the magazine commanded a price of one dollar per annum.

A good school building in which every convenience is for the management and teaching of those who are aiming at culture or preparation for some calling is a very desirable thing, but mortar and brick do not make a good school. In Middle Tennessee are found many excellent buildings some of which are very suitable for the purpose for which they were made. We have observed that many of our best schools have but little to say about their appliances beyond the mention of their conveniences and favorable means of instruction. It seems in this case the loaded wagon makes the least noise. We recently noticed a statement made by a college president calling attention to his four-story building as an inducement to young men and ladies to enter his school. Just what advantage accrues to young women, especially in climbing two or three flights of stairs four or five times a day, is not easily seen.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE : V.E. Orr published Orr’s U.S. and Library Maps, Orr’s U.S. and Outline Maps, and Orr’s U.S. and Georgia Maps. Along with publishing “The Florida Journal” he also published “The Georgia Teacher” and was headquartered in Atlanta (GA).

INTERESTING QUESTION: Is V.E. Orr related to Brunswick Public Schools of Brunswick (GA) Superintendent of Schools (and later State School Commissioner) and American cartographer Gustavus John Orr (9 August 1819 – 11 December 1887)?

Tracking the origins of this saying proved more difficult than anticipated, leading Idiomation to the mid-1800s when, as the movies often claim, the West was being won, and the common road wagon was clearly defined by the Supreme Court of Errors of the State of Connecticut, in Merrick v Phelps, in 1848. When one spoke of a wagon, the Court understood this to mean the following:

A one-horse wagon, with a single fixed seat, and two full grown persons sitting thereon, one of them driving, is a “wagon” but not a “loaded wagon” within the charter of the Hartford and New London Turnpike Company.

This was an important ruling insofar as it made dealing with two wagons meeting on a narrow road much easier. No loaded wagon or cart could be made to get off the road to afford passage to another vehicle unless the other vehicle was another loaded wagon. The heavier loaded wagon was granted the right of way at the expense of the lesser loaded wagon or the cart that was on the road headed in the direction from which the loaded wagon came.

There was no argument to be had. The greater loaded wagon was going to benefit far more people than the lesser loaded wagon, or the cart, and so it was to pass by without commentary from either party.

Prior to article published in the “The Florida School Journal” in 1895, the expression managed to keep itself hidden. One could suppose this means its origins are loaded which would explain why it makes no noise the more one searches for evidence of its existence.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »