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helping verb for use in a question; request or expression of desire
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ESL Story: The language of silence

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Shut up is still regarded by most people as an impolite expression but you hear it nevertheless used in everyday conversation and the tone in which it is spoken indicates its severity or casualness. Thus, a child shouting shut up to his parents would, we imagine, be reprimanded but in adult conversation the remark: “Oh come on, shut up! I'm trying to be serious!” would be quite harmless in it's request for co-operation. More formally “Be quiet” and “Keep quiet” as orders call for greater respect.

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And “Hold your tongue!” has a dramatic and almost medieval severity all of its own. Less awe-inspiring are “Pay attention now please!” and “May I have your attention please?” On a more friendly level when we want quiet we can simply say, ”Would you mind?” or “Settle down now” and for a humorous effect we use “Right, let's have some hush.” Two expressions used in special circumstances are “Order, order” called out in a debating chamber and “Silence in court!” used in a court of law.

Of course, being quiet can also mean as we say keeping yourself to yourself or not revealing secrets or personal feelings. We keep mum or clam up when we are guarding private information. When others tell us an important piece of news that they don't want advertised around they advise us: “Keep it under your hat, don't spread it around, don't tell a soul” or simply “Keep it to yourself.

Intentionally preventing information from reaching the public notice can also have sinister motives. So we speak of an incident concerning well-known people as being hushed up. The idea behind this is that we ought to know about the incident but it is deliberately being kept secret to avoid embarrassment to those involved. In a similar vein if the press is not allowed to publish a story we say it is being gagged.

Then there are expressions that point to an absence of noise: It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop; they sat there the whole evening and didn't utter a sound or more chilling: a deathly hush fell over the audience when they heard the news. But perhaps the most effective word of quietness is silence in its various forms. Silence is the word written on notice boards in, for example, public library reading rooms. The verb to silence: All opposition was silenced when the minister explained the reason for the Government's action. A deserted village may be described with a comparison as silent as the grave and an ominous silence could be used with reference to a lack of comment where normally some reaction would be expected: An ominous silence followed John's suggestion to do the cooking that evening, none of us dared say what we were really thinking. Now I take my leave and say no more with the appropriate thought that

Silence is Golden.

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Next:ESL Story: The language of pessimism

Author: Alan Townend

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