Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Riffing on State Mottoes

When we were at Target this Saturday, we looked through the $1 bins like we usually do. We picked up some educational materials for the kids, and one of the bargains we got my daughter is a set of United States flash cards.

As I was checking them out yesterday, I focused on the states' mottoes. I thought I'd share my thoughts about them.

Alabama: "We Dare Defend Our Rights." That's seems a little confrontational. How dare you, Alabamians! Wouldn't "We Defend Our Rights" be much cleaner and not so prickly sounding? I like the old Alabama state motto better, which was "Here We Rest." It's more relaxed and laid back.

Alaska: "North to the Future." This is typical of the Chamber of Commerce jingoism you'll see more of quickly. What future?

Arizona: "God Enriches." What happened to the separation of Church and State the Founding Fathers, many of whom were staunch Freemasons, favored? I don't like this. States can do better than religious-induced, sunshine-pumpin' aphorisms. You'll see more of this foolishness soon.

Arkansas: "The People Rule." That's a nice sentiment, but it sounds a lot like bullshit. Perhaps it should be updated to "Super PACs and corporations and special interest groups rule even before the Roberts Court deemed that money equals speech."

California: "Eureka," aka "I Have Found It." The translation fits with California's mythos. I kind of like it. It takes cojones to have a good one-word motto.

Colorado: "Nothing Without Providence." Here we go again. See Arizona.

Connecticut: "He Who Transplanted Still Sustains." I like it. The motto connects to the American boomer mentality but spins it for the positive. "Sustains" is a strong verb.

Delaware: "Liberty and Independence." Can state mottoes be called for plagiarism?

Florida: "In God We Trust." Wow, that's original. See Delaware, Colorado, and Arizona.

Georgia: "Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation." If anyone has studied the civil rights movement, they would see that this motto does not fit Georgia. The governor back in the 60s recommended that citizens use axe-handles on demonstrators. I like the motto's idealistic triad though. We should aspire for all of those.

Hawaii: "The Life of the Land is Perpetuated by Righteousness." I'm having some trouble parsing this one, but I love what seems to be a focus on environmental sustainability. It reminds me a number of poems by W.S. Merwin where he discusses defending Hawaii's sacred lands and trees.

Idaho: "It is Forever." What is "it"? I call Idaho on a hazy referent.

Illinois: "State Sovereignty, National Union." This sounds more like a motto for Jeffersonians than one for a state notorious for being politically and culturally bi-polar. It should be revised to "Chicago Political Oligarchy, State Disarray."

Indiana: "The Crossroads of America." That's horrible. It beats Alaska for Chamber of Commerce jingoism so far.

Iowa: "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain." I'm biased of course (a native Iowan), but I really like this one. The dyad of liberties and rights works for me, and the use of first person plural is smart. The pronoun indicates that citizens are all in it together.

Kansas: "To the Stars Through Difficulties." I have little inkling on what that means. There's got to be a story there.

Kentucky: "United We Stand, Divide We Fall." See Delaware and Florida.

Louisiana: "Union, Justice, and Confidence." The first two are what you'd expect from a state motto, but then those Cajuns slip in "confidence" on you. I wonder why confidence? Did Louisiana have a inferiority complex at one time? Did Texas beat it up in the 19th century?

Maine: "I Direct." See Idaho. I suspect "I" represents some kind of ceremonial deism though. See Florida, Colorado, and Arizona.

Maryland: "Strong Deeds, Gentle Words." Maybe we can accuse Teddy Roosevelt of plagiarism of Maryland's motto. Maryland's motto is better than Teddy's famous phrase though. This is classic antithesis. Well done, Maryland.

Massachusetts: "By the Sword We Seek Peace, but Peace Under Liberty." This makes sense for a colony and then a state known for its disputatious character and reputation.  It works well, I think.

Michigan: "If You See a Pleasant Peninsula, Look Around You." When I first read this one, I thought "What?!?" It smacks of Chamber of Commerce jingoism but is flat out goofy. I doubt there are Americans out there thinking, "I need to find a good peninsula," unless of course they're geographers.

Minnesota: "The Star of the North." The Minnesotans beat Alaska to this one. Because I have a bias for the Gopher State, I'm a fan of this motto.

Mississippi: "By Valor and Arms." As they are typically depicted, Southern gentlemen want to be remembered as valiant, so valor makes sense here. I can see a bunch of landed gentry thinking up this motto as they sipped hot toddies back at the hunting lodge.

Missouri: "The Welfare of the People Shall Be the Supreme Law." Oh, I really like this one. It's one of my favorite states too. "Shall" isn't used enough anymore, "welfare of the people" rings true for me, and "supreme law" is strong diction.

Montana: "Gold and Silver." Apparently in Montana, it's all about the Benjamins, which begs the question: Why aren't there any good hip-hop outfits coming out of the Treasure State? Regardless, now I know where Yukon Cornelius hails from. That drunk miner just got the motto mixed up.

Nebraska: "Equality Before the Law." This motto makes it sound like Nebraskans, who are good folk, are focused squarely on jurisprudence. I like the saying and sentiment, but it doesn't adequately reflect the Cornhusker State.

Nevada: "All for Our Country." No states rights foolishness for Nevadans.

New Hampshire: "Live Free or Die." This has to be the most famous state motto, and it deserves its fame even though the authors provide an either-or proposition. No nuance with this one, memorable, and a great Son Volt song.

New Jersey: "Liberty and Prosperity." Surely Jersey folks could have come up with something better than this. See Kentucky, Delaware, and Florida.

New Mexico: "It Grows as It Goes." This maxim espouses patience, which I would imagine is necessary when a state is mostly a desert. I wonder if this is where the maxim "It is what it is" came from.

New York: "Ever Upward." I think this would be a good slogan for boner-creating drugs like Cialis and Viagra: "Do you suffer from erectile dysfunction? Try the new drug ____, and it's ever upward!"

North Carolina: "To Be, Rather Than to Seem." I like what the Tar Heels have done here. In other words, don't act like something you're not. Be yourself. That's a good message, but I don't know how appropriate it is for a state motto.

North Dakota: "Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable." Oh, Good Lord! Why not shove "the pursuit of happiness" into the motto while you're at it? See New Jersey, Kentucky, Delaware, and Florida.

Ohio: "With God, All Things Are Possible." I hate this. All things are not possible. There are such things as science, biology, chemistry, and the laws of physics. See Florida, Colorado, and Arizona.

Oklahoma: "Labor Conquers All Things." Although at first read I really liked this one because I valorize (take that Mississippians) hard work, grit, discipline, and resilience, when you think about it, it's a lot like Ohio's. They just replaced God with Labor.

Oregon: "She Flies With Her Own Wings." We can presume "she" is the state of Oregon. But Oregon is the Beaver State. Beavers can't fly. They swim. They chew wood. I call you on your illogical motto, Oregon. Your move, female winged beaver.

Pennsylvania: "Virtue, Liberty, and Independence." The last two of the trio are standard fare as we've seen ad nauseum. But I like the inclusion of "virtue" at the top of the list. We don't worry about virtue as much as we should. We should be virtuous in civic behavior, but if you go by talk radio and the cable news channels, you're not going to find a lot of virtuous civil behavior on display. Of the lifted mottoes, this is one of the better ones.

Rhode Island: "Hope." Like I said about California, it takes balls to go with a one-word motto. But hope is such a squishy word that it leaves the reader with little to hang on to.

South Carolina: "Prepared in Mind and Resources" & "While I Breathe, I Hope." In typical South Carolinian fashion, the state has two mottoes. While I enjoy the phrase "prepared in mind," neither motto works for me. And how can one be prepared in resources? I guess a state can prepare its resources, but more generally, a state has resources that get depleted. Or in the case of some aquifers, they get replenished.

South Dakota: "Under God, the People Rule." Here we go once again. See Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona.

Tennessee: "Agriculture and Commerce." We have a contender with Indiana for the worst state motto.

Texas: "Friendship." Everything isn't bigger in Texas. This brash state provides a two-syllable motto that means something and nothing. See Rhode Island.

Utah: "Industry." I'm beginning to think writers of these these commercial mottoes should have tried haikus instead. At least I like haikus.

Vermont: "Freedom and Unity." Vermonters take two concepts that could be seen as opposites and conjoin them. How paradoxical of you Green Mountain State. Me like.

Virginia: "Thus Always to Tyrants." Now that is a memorable and historic saying. I would imagine many Virginians nowadays don't like being connected to John Wilkes Booth. But George Mason recommended the phrase reportedly uttered by Brutus.

Washington: "By and By." If I had all of the mottoes by themselves and had to connect them to certain states blindly, I would guess this motto was connected with Hawaii. The Evergreen State surprises with this one. I'm not sure how to take it, but I think it'd be a great name for a bar: "I'm going to the By and By."

West Virginia: "Mountaineers Are Always Free." This is a nice anthem to provide positive imagery for a state that, unfortunately, could use some good news.

Wisconsin: "Forward." Of all the one-word mottoes, I'm supporting Wisconsin's. It defeats California in that competition.

Wyoming: "Equal Rights." When I think of Wyoming, I don't think of equal rights. However, it also has the moniker of the Equality State. I was intrigued how this came to be, and apparently Wyoming women were the first women to be able to vote, hold public offices, and serve on juries. Way to go!.

So if there were a state motto smackdown, here are the ranked contenders if I'm serving as a one-person selection committee. You've already seen their flags:
  1. Iowa: "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain."
  2. New Hampshire: "Live Free or Die."
  3. Missouri: "The Welfare of the People Shall Be the Supreme Law."
  4. Virginia: "Thus Always to Tyrants."
  5. Vermont: "Freedom and Unity."
  6. Hawaii: "The Life of the Land is Perpetuated by Righteousness."
  7. Wisconsin: "Forward."
  8. Connecticut: "He Who Transplanted Still Sustains." 
  9. Maryland: "Strong Deeds, Gentle Words."
  10. North Carolina: "To Be, Rather Than to Seem."
I''ve made a poll where you can vote for your favorite among those ten candidates. Please vote. 


Babe Runner said...

THIS WAS AWESOME. Cracked would love this post, though in order to publish with them you have to go through this ridiculous process that's not worth the trouble. I laughed out loud, quite literally, a number of times. Funniest, bestest thing I've read in a while.

Babe Runner said...

P.S. Much as I would love to vote for my home state, I have to admit it's ponderous and strange, though it sounds much better in Hawaiian: Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono. I'm going with Missouri.

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Aw shucks, Babe. Thanks.

I like the strangeness of Hawaii's, but it's not my favorite.

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

After some cursory research, I think Kansas could be a contender.


TGDem said...

The Hawkeye state impresses, what a progressive and impressive state.

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

I agree TG Dem.

If any of you haven't voted yet, the poll will stay open for quite some time.