Monday, March 02, 2009

Rating State Mottos, Part V

I took a short break to heighten the tension over South Dakota (yup), but now we're ready to finish the show once and for all.

Part I: Alabama - Florida

Part II: Georgia - Maine

Part III: Maryland - New Jersey

Part IV: New Mexico - South Carolina

South Dakota: Under God the people rule

Oooh, a pan! Sorry Adam, but my visceral loathing of Godly mottoes continues unabated. I really should group the God-mottoes together and have a box-off to see which one is the best least repulsive. So far, it's Colorado. South Dakota's contribution, which makes sense (unlike Samoa), does not evoke turn of the century excuses for starving the poor (Arizona), is not plagiarized (Florida), does not take on a tone of groveling (Kentucky), and is not tautological (Ohio) is, I suppose, one of the wetter places in the Sahara. C+.

Tennessee: Agriculture and commerce

Aren't these zoning categories in Sim City (answer: no -- though you can get agriculture in SimCity 3000 if you zone industrial in a sufficiently isolated location)? Tennessee took Montana's idea (yes, Montana's motto predates Tennessee's -- way to slack off, guys) and decided to make it duller. C-.

Texas: Friendship

If Nevada's motto is so perfect as to make it unnerving, Texas' is so incongruous that I'm suspicious of the real meaning. They should add a little Mao: Friendship grows out of the barrel of a gun. Now that's a Texas-sized motto! C-.

Utah: Industry

Utah: Unbelievably boring. Motto: Unbelievably boring. So, high marks or low? I refer to the Delaware rule for motto-creation in boring states: holding that for states with no distinctive qualities, it is permissible to throw out a bunch of abstract virtues. But "Industry" is not a virtue, it is, well, an industry. That's pushing it even under the most lenient interpretation. C-.

Vermont: Freedom and Unity

See, Utah, take your cue from Vermont. Most Americans know nothing about the Green Mountain state other than it gave us Ben & Jerry's (who, I'm sure, could create a fabulous state motto if given the privilege). So, why not something generic like "Freedom and Unity"? Given that Vermont was for a few years an independent nation (freedom!) and once was part of New York (umm...disunity!), the motto even has vague claims to a specific relationship with the state. B-.

Virginia: Sic semper tyrannis/Thus always to tyrants

It's a shame this phrase is now associated with the Lincoln assassination, because it is a stellar motto. I checked, and it turns out that the motto easily predates the civil war, so this wasn't neo-confederatism talking. Excellent news for Virginia. A+.

Virgin Islands: United in Pride and Hope

I can't decide how I feel about the "United in" part of this motto. The conventional approach would definitely be just "Pride and Hope". Virgin Islands innovates by adding a preface. But I'm not convinced the aesthetics are there. C.

Washington: Al-ki/By and by

Fantastic. This motto is so unbelievably chill. I'm not even sure what "by and by" means (I'm thinking of how Richard Fish used "bygones" in Ally McBeal), and I don't really care. The language is not Chinook, but Chinook Jargon, which adds to the laid-back quality. And of course, it's not even formally Washington's motto. Dude, Al-ki. I can feel my blood pressure lowering just by saying it. A.

West Virginia: Montani semper liberi/Mountaineers are always free

There's a dig at Virginia if I ever saw one. Virginians, for all their blathering about tyrannies, certainly had plenty of unfree people in its domain when WV seceded. Of course, West Virginia might not even be constitutional, so Virginia would get the last laugh after all. Still, it's got a good flow, and anything that burns the Old Dominion is fine by me. A-.

Wisconsin: Forward

I can't top the Book of Ratings on this one, so I won't even try: "[I]f I was a settler and I found myself in Wisconsin that's what I'd say, too. That's why California's state motto means 'I have found it.' You get to Wisconsin, you keep moving. You get to California, you've arrived." Sorry, 'sconies. B-.

Wyoming: Equal Rights

Wyoming was the first state to grant women's suffrage, in 1869 (well before it became a state actually). One of the reasons was to boost its voting population to get it admitted to statehood faster. So the motives weren't entirely pure, but the fact that Wyoming chose to inscribe its early stand in favor of sex equality as its written face to the world is still a nice gesture. B+.


Well, we're through! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. I gave exactly two A+'s and two D-'s. So congratulations to our winners (New Hampshire and Virginia) and throw eggs and stuff at the losers (Michigan and Florida).


Hal E. said...

Ouch! I was reading the series anticipating that Wisconsin would earn one the coveted As. I always get the vibe of continual progress whenever I see "Forward" on the state flag, as though no matter how far we have come, there is always yet farther that we can go. Really, what better attitude can a government have itself, and try to instill in its citizens?

The snub to my homeland aside, great series--it always made a nice study break in my day.

Jack said...

Since when is industry not a virtue? I assume they weren't talking about factories.

MH said...

I'm still uncertain on Virginia's motto. Sic Semper Tyrannis is a great motto when you're doing something, and preferably something to a tyrant or at least something one could do to a tyrant in principle, like assassinating someone. But what is the action involved when it's a state motto - what is it always to tyrants in this case? Living in Virginia?

PG said...

FYI, Texas comes from "Tejas," which is the Spanish spelling of a Caddo word taysha, which means "friend" or "ally."

A.R. said...

While it has been slightly insulted, So. Dak. feels validated for having played a minor role in your blog (seriously, I think SD's appearance in part V of a blog post briefly commenting upon the mottos of all 50 American states--and territories--is the biggest thing to happen to the state since Daschle stopped being in the news).

On behalf of the state (I can speak for the state: with our numbers, I'm actually a pretty significant percentage of the population) I thank you.