I understand that "silver-tongued" or "silver-tongued devil" means to be a good orator, or:

able to speak in a way that makes other people do or believe what you want them to do or believe Merriam Webster

My question is: why silver?

This question on quora goes into detail about where & when the phrase appears to originate from.

But why would silver be chosen as the adjective to describe someone's tongue?

I'm making the assumption that it means the valuable metal silver and not simply the color, but would gold not have been more apt, as it is worth more? Or why not jewel encrusted tongue?

It just seems rather arbitrary to choose a valuable metal, but not the most valuable, to describe someone with a tongue that is valuable. I was wondering if there is any evidence of a deeper or more substantial meaning as to the original choice.

  • Will answer if I can find sources, I always thought it was related to the phrase "Cross my palm with silver" dictionary.com/browse/cross-someone-s-palm-with-silver - in the same way silver was used to bribe and get your way, someone who was silver-tongued could get their way simply by speaking/being convincing. Learning a lot about the instrument etymology though...
    – TCooper
    Oct 20, 2021 at 22:26

4 Answers 4


It does not refer to the value but to the "sound" produced by silver objects:

  • Of voices, words, etc., from 1520s in reference to the metal's pleasing resonance; silver-tongued is from 1590s.


  • 5
    I wish Etymonline was more transparent. For example, pointing us to 16th century sources...
    – DyingIsFun
    Nov 9, 2016 at 14:48
  • 5
    The finest musical instruments were originally made of silver.
    – Mick
    Nov 9, 2016 at 14:56
  • 5
    @Silenus Personally I question the pleasing sound theory, the phrase "Silver Tongued" was popularized in the 1590s specifically because of the famous preacher "Silver Tongued Smith" whose sermons were incredibly popular. But I strongly suspect it actually came from the Bible, Proverbs 10:20 and was applied to Smith because of his righteousness, rather than just his melodiousness. I have no proof, just seems more likely to me.
    – barbecue
    Nov 10, 2016 at 0:25
  • 2
    @jamesqf Not entirely true. Some 'woodwind' instruments are made of metal. The flautist, James Galway, played a silver flute.
    – Mick
    Nov 10, 2016 at 9:54
  • 6
    @Silenus Luckily, we have the OED! Sense 6(a) is "[o]f sounds: Having a clear gentle resonance like that of silver; soft-toned, melodious" and lists sources, e.g., "1526 W. Bonde Pylgrimage of Perfection 'We shall yelde a benigne & gentyll answere, & gyue a swete syluer sounde as the tryed syluer.'" and "1592: N. Breton C'tess Penbrooke's Love 'Some brought in musicke of most siluer sounde.'"
    – wchargin
    Nov 10, 2016 at 12:31

Silver tongue is a phrase used in the Bible. Proverbs, 10:20, King James Version

The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth.

The OP asks: but would gold not have been more apt, as it is worth more?

Golden-tongued has been used, the most famous examples that of a 4th century saint and a 19th century U.S. politician.

Golden tongued, or, more exactly, golden-mouthed was appended to the name of St. John, Archbishop of Constantinople. See Wikipedia, John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom ..... c. 349 – 407,... Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority .. by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. The epithet Χρυσόστομος (Chrysostomos, anglicized as Chrysostom) means "golden-mouthed" in Greek and denotes his celebrated eloquence. (Emphasis added.)

See also William Jennings Bryan: Golden-Tongued Orator by Robert A. Allen, Peggy Trabalka (Illustrator). (WJB, 1860 to 1925.)

Describes the life of the lawyer, orator, and politician who ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency three times.

As for silver- vs gold-tongued: @ Mick says in his comment

The finest musical instruments were originally made of silver.

But that pushes the OP's question to: why were the finest musical instruments made of silver and not gold? It may be simply because gold is so much more expensive than silver, and thus gold instruments were exceedingly rare.

@JOSH said in his answer that silver has a pleasing resonance, but gold musical instruments also have a fine tone, as the following reference on gold flutes discusses.

A flute can be made of even 24K gold. From The Flute Center of New York

Most flutes made of gold or platinum have a silver mechanism, but for those willing to go the extra mile, we have flutes with gold mechanism as well. The added weight of a gold mechanism will certainly affect a flute's resistance, its weight, and its price! While 14K gold is most common, many flute makes use other alloys, like 9K, 10K, 18K, 19.5K or even 24K because of the unique tonal characteristics of each alloy.

The ultimate is a platinum flute (See, e.g., Altus Platinum flute) , but platinum was not known in ancient times, and, because of its very high melting point, probably could not have been worked. so platinum-tongued never became established.

If the OP wants to pursue the dominance of silver musical instruments over gold musical intruments, https://musicfans.stackexchange.com/ or https://music.stackexchange.com/ may be a better place to ask.


"Speech is silver, silence gold". Unable to recall when first I heard this but have always understood that choosing to be silent is more valuable than speech.


I always thought that "silver-tongued" referred not to silver, but to mercury, or quicksilver.

  • 1
    I think you are right, but some references would support your argument.
    – Chenmunka
    Apr 9, 2018 at 7:44
  • Use citations in answers, if you please.
    – lbf
    Apr 10, 2018 at 0:22

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