Ticklish Ears

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Audemus jura nostra defendere

We’ve been in Montgomery, Alabama, for the weekend to attend the wedding of my cousin’s daughter. It was a very nice affair, with the wedding at a large United Methodist Church in Montgomery, and the reception at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

When we entered Alabama on Friday, we stopped at the Welcome Center on I-85. There’s a huge stone in front of the Center with Alabama’s state motto on it: “We dare to defend our rights.” I had forgotten this was Alabama’s motto - I like its sort of in-your-face sarcastic attitude.

I went to Wikipedia to see how it compares to other state mottos (that’s also where I found the original Latin in the title of this post).
It sure beats the motto of my current home state, North Carolina: Esse quam videri (”To be rather than to seem”). I get the idea, but it’s not the most straightforward of sentiments. California’s is Eureka, which means, “I have found it!” To which I say, “put it back!”

Some are along the same lines as Alabama’s, but without the attitude. Illinois: “State sovereignty, national unity.” Iowa: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain Go get ‘em, Iowa! Arkansas: Regnat populus, which means “The people rule.” And Missouri: Salus populi suprema lex esto, or “Let the good of the people be the supreme law.”

People can get all defensive about state mottos (and flags, and so on), so I’d better stop before I really get in trouble. Apologies in advance to the people of California and North Carolina.

Incidentally, John Leo had a wonderful column on state and city mottos in US News about 10 or 12 years ago. Very funny. I think I saved a copy somewhere — I’ll see if I can’t dig it up. Consider this a sort of tribute to Leo, who is a much better (and wittier) writer than I will ever be.

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