A motto is a succinct statement of beliefs or ideals and may either be a sentence or a short phrase. An individual may have a personal motto, and an organization or business may have one that doubles as an advertising slogan. Nations can have them, as can politicians, who often express them through memorable slogans. Their purpose is to remind stakeholders of the foundational beliefs that underpin an effort.
A personal motto may either be part of a public family tradition, as with inscriptions that accompany a family’s coat of arms, or an individual and private choice. The statement may be in the person’s native language, but there are many that have been traditionally rendered in Latin. Here are some examples of personal mottoes:
- Cooperatores Veritatis ("Co-workers of the Truth"): Pope Benedict XVI, chosen as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
- Vi et veritate ("By force and by truth"): Sloan family — Scotland
- Semper Eadem ("Always the same"): Queen Elizabeth 1 of England
- "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God": Epitaph of Benjamin Franklin, adopted by Thomas Jefferson
A motto may be included in an organization’s advertising slogan. Unlike those that focus on name-recognition or product features, this type points to the underlying principles of the organization. Here are several examples:
- All the news that’s fit to print. (The New York Times)
- Inspiring Minds (Dalhousie University, Canada)
Notice that The New York Times motto refers to the organization’s discernment and discrimination in choosing what to present to their readership, as well as the breadth of their coverage. This slogan is so well known and associated with quality, that the parody publication The Onion used the slogan “all the news that’s fit to reprint” in promoting "The Onion Presents Embedded in America, Volume 16" of their archives. Dalhousie University also focuses on their relationship with their customers, who are their students.
National mottos are often connected with a country’s coat of arms or its currency. Some are more descriptive than idealistic:
- A mari usque ad mare ("From sea to sea"): Canada
- "In God We Trust": United States, introduced on currency in 1864
- E Pluribus Unum ("Out of Many, One"): United States, introduced on currency in 1795
In addition to keeping a candidate’s name in the public eye and in the public’s ear, campaign slogan can be a motto, expressing the public relations version of the ideals or beliefs of the candidate or the party, as these examples show:
- "Prosperity and Progress": Al Gore, 2000
- "Compassionate conservatism": George W. Bush, 2000
- "Government of, by, and for the people ... not the monied interests": Ralph Nader, 2000
Nader’s motto quotes from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, connecting Nader with everything that Lincoln expressed in that well-known speech.