Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue


Words and Silence – Food for Thought

Thomas Carlyle once said: “Silence is more eloquent than words.”

This is an interesting thought for writers since, on the simplest level, silence would translate into writing NO words! At least if you wanted to be eloquent. Hummmm…

Well I came across an excellent analysis of Thomas Carlyle’s quote made by Jeanne Dininni in her “Writer’s Notes” blog. A blog “Helping Writers Follow Their Dreams Through Information, Inspiration, and Encouragement!”

Her treatise on this thought has earned her a spotlight here and I am privileged to present her:

Words and Silence
by Jeanne Dininni

Personally, I would say that there are definitely times when silence is more eloquent than words–as in those times when no words are adequate to express an emotion or when nothing we could say would ever be sufficient to respond to another person’s sorrow or despair without trivializing it.

I also believe that silence can be a highly effective method for punctuating a statement and providing dramatic contrast, which can not only drive an idea home in a particularly potent manner but also encourage (and allow) a listener to really ponder it.

Of course, the above comments would apply more to verbal exchanges than written ones–though there are also many times when silence in written messages can exert a powerful (though not always unambiguous) influence.

“Silence” in Writing

We all know that not replying to something said by someone in an e-mail, letter, or comment can sometimes cause that person to question why and wonder about the significance of the omission. This type of “silence” can create serious doubts about our message’s intent and sometimes even give the recipient a totally erroneous impression of what we meant to convey. This would be a negative application of silence in our written communications, which–while certainly powerful–wouldn’t actually qualify as “eloquent.”

In the writing arena, I also think that, in many cases, economy of words can have a similar effect to that of auditory silence in conversation. This is true in the sense that it leaves some room for individual thought, opinion formulation, and/or personal application of a concept, rather than bombarding the reader with the author’s own perspective and thereby limiting the reader’s engagement with the work in question. This would be a positive manifestation of written “silence” which might actually qualify for Carlyle’s “eloquent” descriptor.

Another version of this type of “silence”–whether in speech or writing–would be the art of asking questions. This is because the very act of questioning implies that a period of silence will follow, during which the hearer’s/reader’s input will be welcome–another positive manifestation of written “silence.” (Even rhetorical questions invite the hearer/reader to ponder the topic and provide the “space” for him to reach his own conclusions.)

What are your thoughts on words and silence–either from a writing or conversational perspective? You have the floor!

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