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Logo of the French Republic "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite
", French for "liberty, equality, fraternity" Logo RF.svg
Logo of the French Republic " Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ", French for "liberty, equality, fraternity"

A motto (derived from the Latin muttum, 'mutter', by way of Italian motto, 'word' or 'sentence') [1] [2] [3] [4] is a sentence or phrase expressing a belief or purpose, [1] or the general motivation or intention of an individual, family, social group, or organisation. [2] [4] Mottos (or mottoes) [1] are usually found predominantly in written form (unlike slogans, which may also be expressed orally), and may stem from long traditions of social foundations, or from significant events, such as a civil war or a revolution. One's motto may be in any language, but Latin has been widely used, especially in the Western world.



Latin has been very common for mottos in the Western World, but for nation states, their official national language is generally chosen. Examples of using other historical languages in motto language include:

A canting motto is one that contains word play. [10] For example, the motto of the Earl of Onslow is Festina lente (literally 'make haste slowly'), punningly interpreting 'on slow'. [11] Similarly, the motto of the Burgh of Tayport, Te oportet alte ferri (It is incumbent on you to carry yourself high), is a cant on 'Tayport at auld Tay Ferry', also alluding to the local lighthouse. [12] The motto of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity, is a backronym of the letters F.B.I.

List of examples

Map of the states that have a national motto Map of State Mottos.svg
Map of the states that have a national motto

Mottos in heraldry

In heraldry, a motto is often found below the shield in a banderole in the compartment. This placement stems from the Middle Ages, in which the vast majority of nobles possessed a coat of arms complete with a motto. In the case of Scottish heraldry, it is mandated to appear above the crest [13] and is called slogan (see: Slogan (heraldry)). The word 'slogan' is an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm (sluagh "army, host" + gairm "cry"). [14] There are several notable slogans which are thought to originate from a battle or war cries. In heraldic literature, the terms 'rallying cry' respectively 'battle banner' are also common.[ citation needed ] Spanish coats of arms may display a motto in the bordure of the shield. [15]

In English heraldry, mottos are not granted with armorial bearings, and may be adopted and changed at will. In Scottish heraldry, mottos can only be changed by re-matriculation, with the Lord Lyon King of Arms. [16] Although unusual in England, and perhaps outside English heraldic practice, there are some examples, such as in Belgium, of the particular appearance of the motto scroll and letters thereon being blazoned; [17] a prominent example is the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States (which is a coat of arms and follows heraldic conventions), the blazon for which specifies that the motto scroll is held in the beak of the bald eagle serving as the escutcheon's supporter.

Ships and submarines in the Royal Navy (RN) each have a badge and motto, as do units of the Royal Air Force (RAF). [19] [ ISBN missing ]

Mottos in literature

In literature, a motto is a sentence, phrase, poem, or word; prefixed to an essay, chapter, novel, or the like, suggestive of its subject matter. It is a short, suggestive expression of a guiding principle for the written material that follows. [4]

For example, Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes uses mottos at the start of each section. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heraldry</span> Heraldic achievements design and transmission

Heraldry is a discipline relating to the design, display and study of armorial bearings, as well as related disciplines, such as vexillology, together with the study of ceremony, rank and pedigree. Armory, the best-known branch of heraldry, concerns the design and transmission of the heraldic achievement. The achievement, or armorial bearings usually includes a coat of arms on a shield, helmet and crest, together with any accompanying devices, such as supporters, badges, heraldic banners and mottoes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coat of arms</span> Heraldic design on a shield, surcoat or tabard

A coat of arms is a heraldic visual design on an escutcheon, surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement, which in its whole consists of a shield, supporters, a crest, and a motto. A coat of arms is traditionally unique to the armiger. The term "coat of arms" itself, describing in modern times just the heraldic design, originates from the description of the entire medieval chainmail "surcoat" garment used in combat or preparation for the latter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Supporter</span> Figures usually placed on either side of an heraldic shield and depicted holding it up

In heraldry, supporters, sometimes referred to as attendants, are figures or objects usually placed on either side of the shield and depicted holding it up.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Escutcheon (heraldry)</span> Main or focal element in an achievement of arms

In heraldry, an escutcheon is a shield that forms the main or focal element in an achievement of arms. The word can be used in two related senses. In the first sense, an escutcheon is the shield upon which a coat of arms is displayed. In the second sense, an escutcheon can itself be a charge within a coat of arms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Seal of Colorado</span> Official government emblem of the U.S. state of Colorado

The Great Seal of the State of Colorado is an adaptation of the territorial seal which was adopted by the First Territorial Assembly on November 6, 1861. The only changes made to the territorial seal design being the substitution of the words "State of Colorado" and the figures "1876" for the corresponding inscriptions on the territorial seal. The first General Assembly of the State of Colorado approved the adoption of the state seal on March 15, 1877. The Colorado Secretary of State alone is authorized to affix the Great Seal of Colorado to any document whatsoever.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coat of arms of Scotland</span>

The coat of arms of Scotland, colloquially called the Lion Rampant, is the coat of arms historically used as arms of dominion by the monarchs of the Kingdom of Scotland, and later by monarchs of Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The coat of arms, or elements from it, are also used in heraldry to symbolise Scotland in general. The arms consist of a red lion surrounded by a red double border decorated with fleurs-de-lis, all on a gold background. The blazon, or heraldic description, is: Or a lion rampant Gules armed and langued Azure within a double tressure flory-counter-flory of the second.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scottish heraldry</span>

Heraldry in Scotland, while broadly similar to that practised in England and elsewhere in western Europe, has its own distinctive features. Its heraldic executive is separate from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lion (heraldry)</span> Element in heraldry

The lion is a common charge in heraldry. It traditionally symbolises courage, nobility, royalty, strength, stateliness and valour, because historically the lion has been regarded as the "king of beasts". The lion also carries Judeo-Christian symbolism. The Lion of Judah stands in the coat of arms of Jerusalem. Similar-looking lions can be found elsewhere, such as in the coat of arms of the Swedish royal House of Bjelbo, from there in turn derived into the coat of arms of Finland, formerly belonging to Sweden.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ecclesiastical heraldry</span> Use of heraldry in the Christian church

Ecclesiastical heraldry refers to the use of heraldry within Christianity for dioceses, organisations and Christian clergy. Initially used to mark documents, ecclesiastical heraldry evolved as a system for identifying people and dioceses. It is most formalized within the Catholic Church, where most bishops, including the Pope, have a personal coat of arms. Clergy in Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches follow similar customs, as do institutions such as schools and dioceses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blazon</span> Art of describing heraldic arms in proper terms

In heraldry and heraldic vexillology, a blazon is a formal description of a coat of arms, flag or similar emblem, from which the reader can reconstruct the appropriate image. The verb to blazon means to create such a description. The visual depiction of a coat of arms or flag has traditionally had considerable latitude in design, but a verbal blazon specifies the essentially distinctive elements. A coat of arms or flag is therefore primarily defined not by a picture but rather by the wording of its blazon. Blazon is also the specialized language in which a blazon is written, and, as a verb, the act of writing such a description. Blazonry is the art, craft or practice of creating a blazon. The language employed in blazonry has its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax, which becomes essential for comprehension when blazoning a complex coat of arms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burgher arms</span>

Burgher arms or bourgeois arms are coats of arms borne by persons of the burgher social class of Europe since the Middle Ages. By definition, however, the term is alien to British heraldry, which follows other rules.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scottish crest badge</span> Scottish clan emblem

A Scottish crest badge is a heraldic badge worn to show allegiance to an individual or membership in a specific Scottish clan. Crest badges are commonly called "clan crests", but this is a misnomer; there is no such thing as a collective clan crest, just as there is no such thing as a clan coat of arms.

<i>In my defens God me defend</i> Motto of the Kingdom of Scotland

In my defens God me defend is the motto of both the royal coat of arms of the Kingdom of Scotland and royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom used in Scotland. Contemporary versions of the royal arms show an abbreviated motto, in the form of in defens or, where English is used as an alternative, in defence. The motto appears above the crest of the arms, in the tradition of Scottish heraldry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Slogan (heraldry)</span> Heraldic motto in Scottish heraldry

A slogan is used in Scottish heraldry as a heraldic motto or a secondary motto. It usually appears above the crest on a coat of arms, though sometimes it appears as a secondary motto beneath the shield. The word slogan dates from 1513. It is a variant of the earlier slogorn, which was an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm. In other regions it is called a war-cry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal standards of England</span> English heraldic flags used in battles and pageantry

The royal standards of England were narrow, tapering swallow-tailed heraldic flags, of considerable length, used mainly for mustering troops in battle, in pageants and at funerals, by the monarchs of England. In high favour during the Tudor period, the Royal English Standard was a flag that was of a separate design and purpose to the Royal Banner. It featured St George's Cross at its head, followed by a number of heraldic devices, a supporter, badges or crests, with a motto—but it did not bear a coat of arms. The Royal Standard changed its composition frequently from reign to reign, but retained the motto Dieu et mon droit, meaning God and my right; which was divided into two bands: Dieu et mon and Droyt.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">German heraldry</span> Tradition and style of heraldic achievements in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire

German heraldry is the tradition and style of heraldic achievements in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, including national and civic arms, noble and burgher arms, ecclesiastical heraldry, heraldic displays and heraldic descriptions. German heraldic style is one of the four major broad traditions within European heraldry and stands in contrast to Gallo-British, Latin and Eastern heraldry, and strongly influenced the styles and customs of heraldry in the Nordic countries, which developed comparatively late. Together, German and Nordic heraldry are often referred to as German-Nordic heraldry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coat of arms of Oxford</span>

The coat of arms of Oxford is the official heraldic arms of Oxford, England, used by Oxford City Council.

A national coat of arms is a symbol which denotes an independent state in the form of a heraldic achievement. While a national flag is usually used by the population at large and is flown outside and on ships, a national coat of arms is normally considered a symbol of the government or the head of state personally and tends to be used in print, on armorial ware, and as a wall decoration in official buildings. The royal arms of a monarchy, which may be identical to the national arms, are sometimes described as arms of dominion or arms of sovereignty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coat of arms of the Prince of Wales</span> Personal coat of arms of the Prince of Wales

The coat of arms of the Prince of Wales is the official personal heraldic insignia of the Princes of Wales, a title traditionally granted to the heir apparent of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, formerly the Kingdom of Great Britain and before that the Kingdom of England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heraldry of McGill University</span>

The coat of arms of McGill University is the official emblem of the university and derives from a heraldic device assumed during the lifetime of the university's founder, James McGill. The first iteration was designed in 1906 by Percy Nobbs, then director of the McGill School of Architecture. The design subsequently varied for decades after until the university's current coat of arms, largely resembling the original design, was finally adopted by the Board of Governors in 1975. Today, the university has approved multiple logos across its faculties and departments, including a separate coat of arms used by the Macdonald Campus.


  1. 1 2 3 motto – Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2022.{{cite encyclopedia}}: |website= ignored (help)
  2. 1 2 "motto – Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  3. motto – Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2022.{{cite encyclopedia}}: |website= ignored (help)
  4. 1 2 3 "Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)". The ARTFL Project. The University of Chicago. Archived from the original on 6 December 2013. Retrieved 20 December 2013.[ failed verification ]
  5. "The Danish Invasions". Somerset County Council archives. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  6. "Somerset - Coat of arms (crest) of Somerset". Heraldry of the World. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  7. "Civic Heraldry of England and Wales East Anglia and Essex area". Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  8. "South Cambridgeshire". Rural Services Network. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  9. "Shetland Islands - Coat of arms (crest) of Shetland Islands". Heraldry of the World. 13 October 2020. Archived from the original on 26 May 2021. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  10. The Manual of Heraldry : being a concise description of the several terms used, and containing a dictionary of every designation in the science. Illustrated by four hundred engravings on wood (5th ed.). London, England: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co. 1800. p.  132. OCLC   1049649069. OL   24349702M . Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  11. Mark Antony Lower (October 1860). "Onslow". Patronymica Britannica: A Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom. London, England: John Russell Smith. ISBN   9780788404566.
  12. "Tayport - Coat of arms (crest) of Tayport". Heraldry of the World. 13 October 2020. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  13. von Volborth, Carl Alexander (March 1980). Heraldry of the World . Blandford Press. p.  192. ISBN   9780806999609. OL   7944413M.
  14. "slogan". Merriam-Webster. 2003. p. 1174.
  15. von Volborth, Carl Alexander (March 1980). Heraldry of the World . Blandford Press. p.  211. ISBN   9780806999609. OL   7944413M.
  16. Innes-Smith, Robert (1990). An Outline of Heraldry in England and Scotland . Derby, England: Pilgrim Press. p.  14, col 1. ISBN   0-900594-82-9. OCLC   1036776100 . Retrieved 1 November 2022. Mottos are not necessarily hereditary, and can be adopted and changed at will.
  17. "USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81)". The Institute of Heraldry. Retrieved 21 February 2024.
  18. "Juhana Herttuan patsas - Pori, Finland – Statues of historic figures". Groundspeak, Inc. 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  19. Cassells, Vic (2000). The capital ships: Their battles and their badges. Kangaroo Press. p. 190.
  20. Stevenson, Robert Louis (1907). Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. London, England: Chatto & Windus.