Friday, April 1, 2011

On Mottoes

I was introduced to mottoes at an early age. "Pravda vitezi" (Veritas vincit or The Truth Prevails) was a state motto of Czechoslovakia and probably the first one I learned. In retrospect it was a bit of an Orwellian joke as was another semi-official motto "Se Sovetskym svazem na vecne casy" (Forever with Soviet Union, the concept of forever being fortunately quite limited in this case).

Have you noticed how mottoes in Latin carry seemingly greater weight? Unless you are a Prince of Wales and then you do not mind a bit of German ("Ich dien"). By the way he got that just outside Prague in 1620 during the Battle of the White Mountain. Not something the Czechs care to remember.

That mottoes can be important at less than lofty level was impressed on me when I emigrated to UK and joined the St. Marylebone Grammar School in London. The school was divided into "houses" (a novelty for me). The house I was assigned to, Portman, had a motto "Impelite caligas vestras" which translates as "Put your boots in". They taught me rugby there and I quickly learned the meaning of the motto.

When I became a family man I felt that a family is incomplete without a motto. Such motto should best reflect the family philosophy, be brief, pithy and of course in Latin.

There are many lofty ideals expressed in family mottoes: "Vi et virtute" (By strength and valor, Barnes), "Fortis in arduis" (Brave under difficulties, Beaton), "Esse quam videri" (To be rather than seem to be, Bonham).

Other mottoes are rather naked attempts at self-promotion: "Crede Byron' (Trust Byron, a motto of the  family...Byron would you believe? Pre-owned carriages and steeds??)

Some are downright dubious by today's standards: "Claris dextra factis" (Right hand employed in glorious deeds, Byam), "Insolitos docuere nisus" (Taught unwonted exertions, Babington. Your guess is as good as mine...), "Commodum non damnum" (Convenience not an injury, Backie. Was this a cry of one in distress akin to " A horse! A horse! A kingdom for a horse!?), "Virtu tutissima cassis" (Virtue is the safest helmet, Barker. A proponent of abstinence?). Much lost in the respective translations, perhaps.

Then there are a few with Confucian overtones: "Aquilla non captat muscas" (Eagle catcheth not flies, Buller).

Rare ones presumably relate to familiar clinical conditions; "Depressus extollor" (I am exalted after being depressed, Butler. More lithium?)

Anyway, I felt our family deserved something more modest yet expressive of our true nature. Thus I came up with "Primus ad alveum" (First to the trough). For some reason it has not been as accepted by the family members as I hoped it to be. The new family crest related to it has been rejected outright!

Still, I am not dscouraged. Recently, I had to come up with a name for our fencing club (well, I did not *have* to, it amused me to do so). The name is "Cyclops". Why Cyclops? You need to know that ours is a very *small* club. Two people, exactly. My wife and I. So the reason for the name is summed up in our motto: "Luscus caecos ducit". No, it has nothing to do with the large bowel! It means "One-eyed leads the blind"!

1 comment:

  1. uh, i always thought our motto was
    altivolus per turkeys
    (apparently there were no turkeys in ancient times)