Monday, November 7, 2011

What's the motto with that?

Did you know that every state has a motto? Kind of quaint, don't you think? A motto is supposed to sum up the ideals or aspirations of a group. Like Wisconsinites and Arizonans are really together on ideals in our fragmented age. Here in Alabama, we can't agree on much, except that our football team is the best. The only problem with that unanimity is that we are referring to different teams. The rivalry can get ugly this time of year.

But, still, state mottos are quirky and unexpected. I prefer my mottos to be in Latin, but I wonder if some are written in a dead language to hide from the voters what they really say. Alabama's motto—Audemus jura nostra defendere "We dare defend our rights"—is quite admirable, but, regrettably, reminds the older among us of the "states' rights" battle cry of segregationists.

Virginia's motto is in the same boat. Sic semper tyrannis "Thus always to tyrants"— encapsulates the patriotic fervor of the former colony. It would seem a bit odd in the 21st century anyway, but when you recall that Latin phrase was shouted by the assassin John Wilkes Booth after he leaped to the stage following his greatest role, it becomes downright strange. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how do you like Virginia's motto?

South Carolina's Dum spiro spero (While I breathe, I hope) is a lovely sentiment, but as a state motto it seems a bit depressive. Are things so tough in the Palmetto State that its citizens have to mutter Dum spiro spero under their breath to keep going?

North Carolina's motto raises questions, as well: Esse quam videri (To be, rather than to seem). Again, I can't argue with the Carolinians' aspiration to be genuine, but what prompted its adoption as a motto? Roving bands of poseurs?

Maryland inexplicably chose to express its ideals in Italian, rather than Latin: Fatti maschil, parole femine (Manly deeds, womanly words). I can't believe Barbara Mikulski knows about this.

New Mexico's motto is just mystifying—Crescit eundo (It grows as it goes), and I'm sure there's a good reason that Puerto Rico chose Joannes Est Nomen Ejus (John is his name), I just haven't a clue what it is.

What would states choose if mottos were on the ballot in this election? Would New York jettison "Excelsior" for "Fuggeddaboutit"? Would California's motto include the word "dude"? Come to think of it, let's just stick with the Latin.

1 comment:

  1. The NC motto comes from Cicero. I've not heard an explanation of why it seemed to fit NC at the time.