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.