Words to live by


Every state has a motto. Some are in English, many are in Latin, and one is in Greek (California’s “Eureka,” or “I found it”). Oddly enough, Maryland’s is in Italian (“Fatti maschii, parole femine” for “strong deeds, gentle words”). The word “motto” itself comes from Italian, probably via French, and refers to a clever, witty saying. Connecticut’s motto is a bit cryptic, the Latin phrase “qui transtulit sustinet,” or “he who transplanted still sustains.” It is a reference to God watching over the colonists after they uprooted from their native land, and may have had its inspiration in the vines of Psalm 80. Only four of the state mottoes reference God (Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky and Connecticut). Curiously, the United States itself had no official motto until 1956’s “In God We Trust,” signed into law by President Eisenhower. The unofficial motto up until that time was “e pluribus unum,” or one (nation) from many (states).

Three states have two mottoes: South Carolina, North Dakota and Kentucky. The Latin phrase uttered by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln, “sic semper tyrannis” (thus always to tyrants) is the state motto of Virginia. Seven states have one-word mottoes, including our neighbors, Rhode Island (“hope”) and New York (“excelsior” or upward), and one motto was a song (Kentucky’s “United we stand, divided we fall”).

Ohio had no state motto for almost a hundred years, until a nine-year-old boy led a three-year campaign for the only state motto that directly quotes Scripture, “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), adopted in 1959.


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