Sunday, December 10, 2006

Motto, Otto

Do yourself a favor and save some money: instead of hiring an expensive life coach, create a motto for yourself. If it’s potent enough, you can chant it in times of need and fill yourself with inspiration.

A motto is a short sentence or phrase used to express a principle, a goal, or an ideal. In the old days, mottoes were rife. They were used by institutions, by families, and by individuals to render a quick snapshot of essence and purpose. We still find them on currency: In God We Trust adorns American money; Canada uses From Sea to Sea (A Mari usque ad Mare). The European Union adopted United in Diversity as its motto, and Oxford University proclaims The Lord is My Light (Dominus Illuminatio Mea) on its coat-of-arms.

Motto probably took its form from the French mot (utterance, word, or saying), as in bon mot, a clever or witty saying. As several of the mottoes used above show, it was considered proper to cast the motto in Latin. I devised the motto Natus Ad Cogitandum to plaster on my motorbike helmet. Thus, my antidote to Born to Raise Hell was Born to Think. The motto of my teaching career (and of my current radio program) was taken from Wittgenstein: The limits of my language are the limits of my world. That would be more motto-like if it were shortened to something like, Small Vocabulary, Small World.

It’s probably better if you invent an utterly personal motto, but there’s no problem with borrowing one; that’s as legitimate as a couple choosing “our song” from what’s on the charts. Here are some to ponder:

Animus, non res: Mind, not property.
Aude aliquid dignum: Dare something worthy.
Bene agendo nunquam defessus: Never weary of doing good.
Concussus surgo: When struck, I rise.
Dum spiro spero: As long as I breathe, I hope.
Feriunt summis fulmina montes: Lightning strikes the mountain tops.
Ingenium superat vires: Genius overcomes strength.
Nivem flavam noli comedere: Don’t eat yellow snow.
Non quam diu, sed quam bene: Not how long, but how well.
Quod in te est, prome: Bring forth what is in you.
Sol non occidat super iracundiam vestram: Let not the sun set on your anger.
Usus libri, non lectio prudentes facit: The use, not the reading, of a book makes men wise.

Sidebar: state mottoes

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