Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rating State Mottos, Part III

The death march continues....

Part I: Alabama - Florida

Part II: Georgia - Maine

Part IV: New Mexico - South Carolina

Part V: South Dakota - Wyoming

Maryland: Fatti maschii, parole femine/Manly deeds, womanly words

As mentioned in the first post, it is Maryland's very strange motto that set me down on this path in the first place. Maryland's motto is the only one in America that is in Italian, which makes sense because Maryland has no historical connection to Italy whatsoever, and that probably hurt the Italians' feelings. "Manly deeds, womanly words" sounds like it would have been a stunning blow for feminism in 1622, which was when the Calvert family first established it as their own motto. Unfortunately, the Maryland government apparently translates it to "Strong deeds, gentle words", which is far, far lamer. A.

Massachusetts: Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem/By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty

Massachusetts' motto sure is violent isn't it? Massachusetts seeks peace ... but through violence ... and only when it comes with liberty. That's a lot of outs to justify killing folks. C+.

Michigan: Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice/If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you

Pedants might note that Michigan actually is two peninsulas (peninsulae?), but pedants forget that nobody actually lives in the UP (Michiganers, by contrast, are well aware of that fact and are quick to bring it up if they do happen to meet one of the 20 or so people who still reside in Sault Ste. Marie). Aesthetes might note that this motto would fail as the tourism slogan for a D-rated Native American historical site, and they'd be spot on. D-.

Minnesota: L'étoile du Nord/The star of the North

Prior to statehood, Minnesota's motto was "I long to see what is beyond." Unlike Kentucky, Minnesotans knew enough to replace an old, weak motto, with a new, cooler one; and unlike Connecticut, Minnesota also is secure enough to jettison a motto that advocates fleeing the state once it became a state. The star of the North is pretty and pithy, and goes well on license plates or when naming hockey teams that will betray their loyal fans and move to Dallas. A-.

Mississippi: Virtute et armis/By valor and arms

A law school friend of mine, born in Texas, educated at the University of Alabama, told me that if she had a motto, it'd be "by force and arms". So I told her about Mississippi's motto, and she was appalled, because she hates Mississippi. Not really bothering to distinguish the various elements of Dixie myself, I think this motto is appropriate, conjuring to mind that distinctive mix of traditional manhood and flaming militarism that so perfectly captures the Old South. A-.

Missouri: Salus populi suprema lex esto/Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law

Missouri could use an editor. I feel like these sentiments could be expressed much more sharply (though again, perhaps it works better in Latin). In any event, utilitarians will rejoice that they are the official guidepost of Missouri law. Now let the gladiator combat begin! C+.

Montana: Oro y plata/Gold and silver

This isn't a motto, it's an economic balance sheet, and that's a bad template for a motto. Oregon would be "trout and salmon", Texas would be "guns and ammo", and California would be "breasts and movies". Mississippi would draw a blank. C.

Nebraska: Equality before the law

Has Nebraska passed a gay marriage law? No? New motto for Nebraska then. C.

Nevada: All for our country

86% of Nevada's land is owned by the federal government. It's rare to find a motto that is so clearly appropriate. Still, I maintain that "all for our country" works better when it's not purely a descriptive claim. B.

New Hampshire: Live Free or Die

Now here's a motto! This is one of the most famous statements in American history. New Hampshire residents are rough, tough heirs to America's revolutionary spirit. The language itself is short and expressive, and flows easily off the tongue. A+.

New Jersey: Liberty and prosperity

The Delaware school of motto formation works equally as well in New Jersey, which, like Delaware, also must tread lightly when deciding how to symbolize its state. Whereas Delaware is simply boring and forgettable, New Jersey is quite well known to the rest of the union -- but for all the wrong reasons. Liberty and prosperity are nice enough, and more importantly vague enough, concepts to pass muster. C+.


Jack said...

Things you forgot: Re Massachusetts... the entire run-up to American independence?

Michigan... the hilarity of putting such a literal motto in latin. And year there are to peninsulas... so if thats what you seek and you are in Michigan you will find not just one, but TWO pleasant peninsulas. Also, they deserve major points for not over-selling. Are these the best peninsulas ever? No. Amazing peninsulas? No. Just pleasant.

Minnesota... you seem to have forgot good taste. This is a terrible motto. Also it's in French!

Missouri- this is from Cicero and was apparently quoted by Locke. This pedigree deserves bonus points.

Anonymous said...

Minnesota's "star of the north" sounds pretty good, but I would argue that it is not really a motto. It's more like a modified noun isn't it?

Anyway, too bad we didn't get around to changing the lousy flag.