Note: “Secret guilt by silence is betrayed.” — John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther . It takes great skill and strong nerve to tell a lie, even a lie of omission. Consequently, the guilty will often hold their tongue.
Sometimes the guilty conscience will hold one’s tongue. “One that will not plead that cause wherein his tongue must be confuted by his conscience.” — Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State. The Good Advocate .
Sometimes the guilty hold their tongue as a matter of jurisprudence. In the United States, for example, the guilty have an absolute right to remain silent.
Note: Silence is golden. — English Proverb. Sprechen is silbern, Schweigen is gelden. (Speech is silver, silence is golden.) — German Proverb. If a word be worth a shekel, silence is worth two. — Hebrew Proverb. Is minic a bhris béal duine a shrón. Is minic a ghearr teanga duine a scornach. Cùm do theanga ‘nad chuimse. (Keep your tongue in hand.) — Scots Gaelic Proverb. The mouth is the tongue’s prison. — Arabic Proverb.
Note also. There is a subtlety in this week’s proverb that is not evident in any of the comparable proverbs above. The phrase ‘ina thost’ is a common idiomatic form. In this case, it literally means ‘in his silence’ with the word ‘his’ a grammatical reference to the masculine noun ‘béal’ (mouth).
It is a noun phrase that is used to convey a temporary sense. For example, if you want to say I am teacher now, but want to infer that it is a temporary state of affairs, you might say, “Tá mé i mo mhúinteoir.” (Literally I am in my teacher(ness).) If you want to convey a sense of permanence then you might say “Is mhúinteoir mé.” (I am a teacher.)
Similarly, if you wanted to infer that silence is always sweet, you could use the adjective for silent, tostach. Is binn béal tostach. Since it was not used, and since the tempory form was used, then we can infer that silence is not always golden.
Note: One could use the title of Shakespeare’s comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing,” as a loose translation of this week’s proverb. Shakespeare’s play is about various slanderous and deceitful conversations concerning two pairs of lovers, Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick.
Don Pedro tries to help Claudio win Hero by posing as Claudio. However, Don Paedro’s deceptions are mistaken as an expression of his own love for Hero. Don John, Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, tries to spoil the pursuit by spreading slander about Hero’s reputation.
Meanwhile, Beatrice and Benedick berate each other and each vows never to marry. Both are then led to believe that the other has fallen in love with him/her. The play has much talk with little reason.
Note also: This proverb consists of four nouns and one preposition. Two of the nouns are in the common case (i.e., the nominative, accusative, and dative cases are all the same in Modern Irish.), while the other two are in the genitive case.
Both of the nominative case nouns are in the first declension, namely, móran and beagán . All nouns in this group form the genitive by making the last consonant slender, e.g., mórain and beagáin.
Both of the genitive case nouns are in the second declension, caint and cúis. All nouns in this group form the genitive by adding -e after the last consonant, e.g., e.g., cainte and cúise.
An té is mó a osclaíonn a bhéal is é is lú a osclaíonn a sparán.
The one who opens his mouth the most, ’tis he who opens his purse the least.
Note: This week’s proverb probably came from the Scots, “Am fear nach fhosgail a sporan, fosglaidh e bheul.” — Gaeilge na hAlban. (The man who won’t open his purse will open his mouth.) Some say the Scots are renown for their frugality. This is evident in a similar Scots proverb, “Am fear air am bi beul, bidh sporan.” (He that has a mouth will also have a purse.)
An American might express this idea using the common, if rude, expression, “Put up or shut up!” Another Scots proverb practically makes this sentiment an obligation, “Cha déan fear an sporain fhalaimh ach beag faraim san taigh-òsda.” (The man of empty purse will make but little noise in the inn.)
Note also: The speaker does not pronounce the relative particle, “a,” that appears before each instance of the verb “osclaíonn.” The particle is usually pronounced as a neutral vowel, what linquists call a “schwa.” It is, perhaps, the most common phoneme in Irish. However, when it appears before another word that begins with a vowel, it usually drops out.
Note: Sometimes you will see this proverb in a contracted form, “Beagán, agus a rá go maith.” Others have conveyed the meaning of this seanfhocal better than we can.
“Is le barr baoise a osclaíonn Iób a bhéal, Agus le teann aineolais a labhraíonn sé chomh fadálach sin.” – An Bíobla Níofa, Leabhar Iób, 35:16. (Yet Job to no purpose opens his mouth, and without knowledge multiplies words.)
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” – Shakespeare, Hamlet Act II, Scene ii, Verse 97 [circa 1600].
“Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense is rarely found.” – Alexander Pope, The Temple of Fame, line 109 .
“Here comes the orator! with his flood of words and drop of reason.” – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, October .
“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving in words evidence of the fact.” – George Eliot, Daniel Deronda Book IV, Chapter 31 .
“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” – Dorothy Parker [1893 – 1967].
Dá bhrí sin, éistimid ár mbéala, sula mbeidh amaidí ar fad orainn.