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Silence, Additional Subthemes

Subthemes: Enables Communication, Out in Nature, Absolute in Outer Space, Deep Thought

Four posts have drawn from that many pieces of art a variety of subthemes regarding silence. The posts included “Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls,” a poem by John Donne, “Jane Avril Leaving the Moulin Rouge,” a painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “The Sounds of Silence,” a song by Simon & Garfunkel, and “North by Northwest,” a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Sainte. A few other subthemes of silence that don’t relate directly to any of the four art pieces deserve mention.

Enables Communication: All languages use silence to separate words. Music uses silence to demarcate individual notes. Silence between notes sets the tempo of what we hear. And, too, when a musical piece ends, silence punctuates it – just before the applause fills it. Morse code relies on pauses between the stream of dots and dashes as do smoke signals with the timed release of smoke. Paradoxically, without silence we could not communicate nearly as significantly.

Out in Nature: When the sounds of civilization fade or disappear, when the cacophony of motors, honks, airplanes and leaf blowers is left behind, people relish the peace and quiet. The particular silence of nature encourages calm and solitude. Not that birds stop chirping, leaves stop rustling, waves stop breaking or cicadas stop humming, but the intrusive din of urban electricity, traffic, sirens, shouts, and combustion ceases – nature lovers revere the quiet.

The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

The restful silence of the outdoors contrasts with the incessant, noisy bustle of city life.

Absolute in Outer Space: Because sound waves propagate by the vibrations of atoms, when almost no atoms exist – as holds true in outer space – no sound waves can stimulate human ears. In the interstellar voids, even super-novae blast stars apart in blanketed stillness.

Deep Thought: The intense visualization, concentration, rapid combinations of concepts and thoughts that accompany thinking through a problem may not allow their expression in words. When people plunge into deep thought, observers can tell from their silence. Silence enables the rapidity, creativity, and profundity of deep thought. Words come too slowly for the rapid mental mixing and ranking of thinking. Some people find out what they are thinking by talking, but most people can’t multitask: they need “sessions of sweet silent thought” to wrestle in their mind and sort out their thoughts.

Expressions: Below we wax eloquent on figurative sayings that relate to Silence. For a master list of online sources that have contributed idioms to the various Themes, see Work Additional Subthemes( ). For this collection of 35, aside from identifying candidate expressions myself, I drew heavily on The Free Dictionary, Phrases, and Power Thesaurus.

bite your lip (Not say anything, especially when provoked)
bite your tongue (Not say anything, especially when provoked)
blue wall of silence (Strict secretiveness by police)
break the silence (Say something after a long, difficult pause)
button it (Stay quiet)
button your lip (Be quite, to keep silence)
can it (Tell someone to quit talking about something)
cat got your tongue (Can’t manage to say anything, usually when an explanation is in order)
Chinese Wall (An arrangement within a financial organization not to breach confidentiality requirements)
clam up (Go silent)
code/conspiracy of silence (Strict secretiveness by members of a group)
dead air (In broadcasting, when no sound is going on)
deafening silence (A silence that signifies disapproval or lack of any enthusiasm)
drowning out silence (music or tv on to cover up silence with background noise)
eloquent silence (When much can be implied from a person saying nothing)
hear a pin drop (Soundless, muted, without any noise, complete silence)
heavy silence/atmosphere (Ominous sense when nothing is being said)
hold your tongue (Don’t speak, even though you want to)
hush money (Money given to buy silence)
keep mum (Stay quiet)
keep the lid on (Keep quiet about something)
keep under wraps (Keep quiet about something)
mum’s the word (Oxymoronic phrase about keeping silent)
nut up (Suffer in silence, without complaint or protest)
pipe down (become more silent) pregnant pause/silence (Suspenseful period where a major statement is expected)
put a cork in it (Shut up)
put a sock in it (Shut up)
reduce to silence (Overpower or scare someone into complete quiet)
silence gives consent (If you don’t say “no”, it implies that you agree)
silence breaker (A whistleblower or person who speaks about a taboo subject)
silence is golden (the best choice may be to say nothing)
suffer in silence (to suffer without telling anyone) the silent treatment” (ignored or not spoken to by someone who is angry at you) tight lips (Of a person, silence or reticence)
tongue tied (unable to express oneself)
voices off (be quiet; silence!)
wall of silence (Strict secretiveness by members of a group)
zip your lip (Don’t say anything!)

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