Thursday, June 17, 2010

What did Emerson say regarding nonverbal communication?

The philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson is often quoted as having said something like:

“What you do speaks louder than what you say"

or perhaps:

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say”

or maybe:

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”

or even (according to John F. Kennedy):

“What we are speaks louder than what we say.”

According to Ralph Keyes’s book The Quote Verifier, what the other Ralph actually said (in Letters and Social Aims) was:

“Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

Thunders is a much more powerful word than the longer and less specific “speaks loud” (or loudly).
In his book The Devil’s Dictionary Ambrose Bierce defined quotation as:

‘The act of repeating erroneously the words of another”

I prefer Emerson’s original words. How about you?

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