The US goes by the motto In God We Trust (but only since 1956, when it replaced the ‘unofficial’ motto, E pluribus unum). A motto (from the Italian word for pledge, plural mottos or mottoes) describes a quality or intention that a group of people aim to live up to - a mission statement of sorts. As such, America’s newer motto has invited more controversy than the older one, since it seems to run counter to the principle of separation of church and state. Its introduction did seem to make sense at the time, what with the Cold War against those godless communists.
As demonstrated on this map, the 50 states making up the US each have their own motto too. The two-and-a-half score state mottos display a wide variety, of quotations, languages and underlying messages. English is the favorite language, but not even by half: only 24 state mottos are originally in English; Latin, once the language for all solemn occasions (and not just exorcisms), accounts for 20. Two mottos are in native languages, and French, Spanish, Italian and Greek account for one each. The system of checks and balances seems to work for mottos too: if the national motto is overtly religious, then only six of the state ones refer to God, either directly or obliquely. Most deal with secular rights, and the readiness to defend them. The Bible is tied with Cicero as the source for the most mottos (three), while classical literature has proven a particularly fertile breeding ground for inspirational quotes (mottos originate with Lucretius, Aesop, Virgil, Brutus and Archimedes).
January 17, 2009
A very interesting map over at Strange Maps today: the United States with each state's motto written over it. Some of the mottos on the individual states are written in an absurdly small font either due to the size of the state (much of the northeast) or for no good reason (e.g., Indiana). Check out the original post for individual mottos and explanations for each of the fifty states.