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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
What's in a motto?
Eton's motto is very Eton-centric

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Prime Minister Gordon Brown resorted to his school's Latin motto when pledging commitment to his new job, but what's the significance of these ancient mission statements?

At the next election it is likely to be "usque conabor" against "floreat etona".

For the non-classicists that's "I will try my utmost", motto of Kirkcaldy High School, versus "may Eton flourish", rather unsurprisingly that of Conservative leader David Cameron's alma mater.

Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell isn't in the Latin club, having been schooled at Glasgow's Hillhead High School, with a French motto. "Nous maintiendrons" or "we will maintain" is fairly low-key.

Gordon Brown: Usque conabor
David Cameron: Floreat etona
Edward Heath: Floreat Domus Chathamensis
Margaret Thatcher: Veras hinc ducere voces

There are a select group of institutions - including schools and football clubs - where a Latin motto is almost a sine qua non. Go on the web and you can even find Latin consultants for businesses wanting a heavyweight motto.

The idea is simple, a bit of Latin spells a dose of gravitas, and a hefty slice of tradition and history.

Mottos for schools tend to be laden with concepts like effort, honesty, humility, teamwork - in short all the attributes the teachers wished the pupils really possessed. "Non sibi sed omnibus" or "not for oneself but for all" as well as "lumen accipe et imperti" or "take the light and pass it on" being just a couple of examples.

Rarely used but worth considering for schools struggling with discipline might be "vir sapit qui pauca loquitur" or "wise is the person who talks little" and "potius sero quam numquam" or "better late than never".

How dare Spurs

In football, the benchmarks are "nil satis nisi optimum" or "nothing but the best is enough" for Everton [last major trophy 1995] and Blackburn Rovers' "arte et labore" or "by skill and hard work" [usual modus operandi - 1-0 win featuring resolute defending at corners].

Tottenham Hotspur got an earful from Latin lovers at the beginning of 2006 when they announced a plan to drop the motto "audere est facere" or "to dare is to do" from the badge on their strips.

David Beckham is a Latinist, reportedly having "ut amem et foveam" or "so that I love and cherish" and "perfectio in spiritu" or "perfection in spirit" as tattoos.

Man City badge
Man City's motto means "pride in battle"

But the best sporting slogan is that of football club Queen's Park with "ludere causa ludendi" or "to play for the sake of the game [recently promoted to Scotland's Division 2].

Oliver Taplin, a classics professor at Oxford University, says Latin mottos hark back to a time when Latin was Europe's lingua franca.

"It is interesting that school mottos are still mostly in Latin. They come from a tradition when if you were going to be a participant in European culture, you needed to know Latin. But I've also seen mottos in French and Greek.

"Latin is so associated with the history of education. Grammar schools were started so people could learn Latin grammar."

Mr Taplin says he has been called on to conjure up Latin mottos, including on one occasion an obscene one for a retiring air force officer.

But now ordinary voters will be thinking of what motto they would give the new prime minister.

Perhaps "mutandum est" or "it must be changed" for a seemingly reform-obsessed leader.

Critics might suggest "imperabo" - "I shall control".

Here is a selection of your comments.

Your translation of Sir Menzies Campbell's high school French motto "Nous maintiendrons" as "we will maintain" is not correct here. The French verb "mantenir" does not have its strict modern usage, but rather has its older mediaeval sense of "to endure" or "to hold the line" (on a battlefield). Sir Ming's school motto is therefore better rendered in English as: "We shall endure" or "We shall stay the course".
Roger Bennett, Farnborough, UK

Motto of the Rainey Endowed school in Magherafelt is "sal sapit omnia" (salt flavours everything)
Billy Evans, Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry

The motto of my old school, Wheelwright Grammar School in Dewsbury, W Yorkshire was "Res non verba", which means "deeds not words". It sounds like a good motto for a politician to adhere to!
paul Cooper, Cambridge, UK

Dum tempus habemus operemur bonum - while we have time let us do good.
Ed, London

My Spalding Grammar School motto was Ut Omnes Unum Sint (That all may be one) perhaps a rather appropriate one for New Labour. I then moved to London at Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Boys' School (where the apostrophe was the most important subject on the curriculum) where the motto was "Serve and Obey" - perhaps more in tune with Brown's hopes for his team.
Ian Spencer, Solihull, UK

I'm an old La Sallian, and my school motto 'Semper Fidelis' (ever faithful) will stay with me forever. Pete, Liverpool, UK You, your schoolmates and the US Marine Corps, Pete.
Julian, Twickenham, UK

My school had "Veritas" (truth). I still remember the suppressed giggles when the guest preacher at the Founders' Day ceremony confused us with a quite different school, and preached on "Per Ardua Ad Astra".
Bob, Leeds

My alma mater (St.Edward's Liverpool) had 'Age Viriliter' as its motto. 'Act Manfully' was perhaps appropriate for an all-boys school, but now it is co-ed it has changed to 'Courage through Faith' (in English)
Kevin Friery, Portsmouth UK

The island of Beqa in Fiji has a school with an outstanding, if somewhat despairing, motto: "Oh, Do Listen"
Joanna Bradley, Stourbridge

My school moto was Heroum Filii - Sons of heroes I believe. As it was set up by Prince Albert as both a memorial to the Iron Duke, and as a school it was originally for the sons of those who perished in the Crimean War. So the motto rather fitting.
Chris MacArthur, Leeds, UK

My old high school motto was "fortiter, fideliter, feliciter" - the glory days. Now fallen on hard times and in special measures
Cecilia, newark notts

The school motto was officially "Rather Use Than Fame", but was pragmatically altered to "Rather U Than Me" by the pupils.
Gotang, London

My school, Bishop Vesey's Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield had a motto of "Dextra Dei Exaltavit Mei" which means "The right hand of God hath lifted me up"
Nigel Ward, Tamworth Staffordshire

The best school motto I ever saw used to grace the gold and green polo shirts worn by the children of North Narrabeen Primary School, just north of Sydney, Australia. It read "Be Sensible".
George Laking, Manchester, England

Exitus acta probat - the ends justify the means
Guy Harrison, Bruton Somerset

I'm an old La Sallian, and my school motto 'Semper Fidelis' (ever faithful) will stay with me forever.
Pete, Liverpool, UK

My school had two as it was the result of a merger in the early 1900s. Sursum Corda - Lift up your hearts and Fear God. Honour the King.
James Battersby, Manchester

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