Why do we say "Actions speak louder than words"?

Well-Known Expressions

Actions speak louder than words

Meaning:

What you do carries more weight than what you say.

Background:

Variations on this expression date back many hundreds of years and are found in multiple languages, but most sources point to it having been popularized in a 1856 speech by Abraham Lincoln:

"Actions speak louder than words' is the maxim; and, if true, the South now distinctly says to the North, 'Give us the measures, you take the men."

An earlier example of the exact wording is apparently is to be found in a 1736 document, "The Melancholy State of this Province Considered, in a Letter, from a Gentleman in Boston to His Friend in the Country," but we were unable to find a full text to verify this.

Moving further back in time, in a 1693 sermon, English Puritan clergyman Thomas Manton writes:

"So they would give him Glory, praise him with their Lips, and honour him with their Lives. They would make that their work and scope, that this may be the real language of their hearts and actions, which speak much louder than words."

Earlier than that, in a 1628 record of the proceedings of the English parliament, parlimentarian John Pym is attributed with this somewhat florid quote:

"A word spoken in season is like an Apple of Gold set in Pictures of Silver,' and actions are more precious than words."

Traveling further back, in one of his essays French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) writes:

"Saying is one thing, and doing is another."

But a number of sources point to a notably earlier source, in one of the sermons of St Anthony of Padua (~1195-1231), which remains a popular sermon for Catholics to revisit during Pentecost:

"The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves. Gregory says: 'A law is laid upon the preacher to practice what he preaches.' It is useless for a man to flaunt his knowledge of the law if he undermines its teaching by his actions."

Alphabetical list of expressions

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