Very Top Five... Eye-catching National Mottoes.

Thursday, 3 September 2009
National mottoes: A source of eternal pride for the people of a country, yes? For example, Iraq is so chuffed with its motto (Allah is Great) that it’s even on their flag. Fab.

A motto should be concise, wise and inspiring, shouldn’t it? It should have gravitas. Many countries go for Latin mottoes for that granite embossed, official air; others use native languages to inject a smidge of extra national pride. And that’s all fine.

Many mottoes mention the world, and the country’s place in it, from Panama’s generous and altrusitic ‘Pro Mundi Beneficio’, (For the benefit of the World) to Austria’s egregious, ambitious (former) motto “Austriae est imperare orbi universo” (It is Austria’s destiny to rule the World.)

However, most countries know that a motto goes right at the top of your international calling card, and they also know that something which sounds awesome at the motto-decision-committee meetings may sound a bit flat on the world stage (such as Norway’s rather greedy royal motto “Everything for Norway”).

So anyway, clever countries play it safe and pick three pride-nouns which vaguely represent the supposed strengths of the country. France went for “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, Germany chose “Unity and Justice and Freedom”, Pakistan decided on “Unity, Faith, Discipline”, and so it goes. Laos couldn’t whittle it down to three pride-nouns and so went for a rather long winded five (“Peace, independence, democracy, unity and prosperity”) but its still in the same ball park. All of these mottoes are brilliant because they sound very impressive, but no-one gets offended because they don’t really say anything. Some of those that made the top five eye-catching mottoes failed to consider this point.

For example, the Soviet Union’s motto was “Proletarians of all countries, Unite!” Which to the ears of anti-communists sounds damned irresponsible. They’re just encouraging the proles to make a nuisance of themselves, aren’t they? And the exclamation mark gives it that additional frisson of danger, doesn’t it just?

The top five eye-catching mottoes are:

5. Luxembourg: “We wish to remain what we are.”

Let’s analyse this: Something about the sentence strikes me as a bit plaintive. Definitely conservative, but also suggesting that they don’t want others to try to change them. By saying “We wish […]” rather than something like “We will […]” suggests that they think that they couldn’t stop an attempt to change them from what they are, so they have to plead instead. That’s one way to read into it, anyway.

The border signs might as well say, “you are now entering Luxembourg: Please, just leave us alone…

4. Bermuda: "Quo fata ferunt" (Latin) wither the fates carry us

What a perfect motto. “Wither” is a great translation. It suggest languidity, doesn’t it; a certain blithe, laissez-faire attitude to the future of Bermuda? The soft vowel sounds of the word simply force you to picture a pleasantly warm beach. You can imagine someone saying this motto while relaxin’ on a deckchair. And how about the next bit; “carry us”? They’re not even planning to expend any effort while being whisked off on fate’s whim.

Bermuda: “Let’s not try to affect the course of the future; let’s just chillax and enjoy it.”

3. Uruguay: “Liberty or Death”

Uruguay’s only gone and offered a choice in their motto, which is unusual in itself. Although it does mention liberty, which takes us back onto firm pride-noun territory. But Death? Bit of a downer.

On the face of it, the motto seems to be an admirable thing to say, if slightly confusing; Liberty = good; threateners of liberty = dead.

Now, we all hate those who threaten liberty, don’t we. Whose liberty, you ask? Um…

…Because what is particularly fun is that different people may have different understandings of the word liberty. No worries, Uruguay will keep you right. The motto seems to say: Not living your life with enough liberty? We can sort that for you…

2. Saudi Arabia: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet”

Woah! That sounds a bit confrontational, putting a blunt statement like that as your national motto. What about all the Christians and Jews and Hindus and things? And what about the time-honoured tradition of picking some meaningless pride-nouns for a motto, so as not to offend any other nations? You’ve only gone and done the opposite, you silly sausages!

But, the thing is… we’ve got all these roads with cars and buses and stuff on them, and they need petrol to run, and you’ve got lots of that. So we don’t want you to think that you’re motto isn’t really very good, which it definitely is. Very regal sounding. So thumbs up on that score. And I’ll just mention again that we’re all jolly grateful for the oil.

And we’d quite like some more, please. At similar prices, even lower, if you’d be so good? No? Ah… that’s actually quite a lot of money… Well, as long as those are the best prices you can offer...

1. Botswana: “Rain.”

Let’s set this in context: Botswana is a landlocked African country. Its neighbours (and their national mottoes) are; South Africa (Unity in Diversity), Namibia (Unity, Liberty, Justice), Zambia (One Zambia, One Nation) and Zimbabwe (Unity, Freedom, Work).

Very noble sentiments; all national mottoes in the well respected pride-noun style. But Botswana didn’t go down the same route.

Because, you see, Botswana is dominated by the Kalahari Desert, which covers 70% of the land surface, so rain is certainly high on the agenda of things they’d like. Apparently higher than justice, unity, liberty, freedom and various other incidentals. Botswana would like to be a precipitation nation.

Rather than describe the country, as national mottoes usually try to do, Botswana decided to make its motto a request; a plea, even. A plea directed at no-one or nothing in particular, perhaps. But if a motto should put into words the genuine, heartfelt feelings of the native population, you can’t get much closer than “Rain.”


Angie said...

Great post! Like your blog a lot, what an original idea! Will keep reading :)

Cheers from Canada!

Andy R Macpherson said...

How could Scotland's new motto not make the Top 5?:

"Aw come on ref, that was/wasn't a penalty!" [delete as appropriate].

Very Top Five said...

Thanks Angie, you're my first comment!

That's only Scotland's unofficial motto, Andy. But by frequent usage, we can get it adopted. (By the will of the people!)

Ewan said...

Hey man, I got hooked in and I can't stop reading these. Please do not post more as I am very busy. Thankyou.

Dave "Loose Cannon" Wills said...

I agree. I like the originality of your blog.

I'll keep coming back to check it out.