Honi soit qui mal y pense
"Honi soit qui mal y pense" (pronounced: [ɔni swa ki mal i pɛ̃s]) is an Anglo-Norman phrase, loosely meaning: "Shamed be he who thinks evil of it." Archaic spellings include "Honi soit quy mal y pense," and "Hony soyt qe mal y pense," and various other phoneticizations. It is the motto of the British chivalric Order of the Garter. In Modern French it is rendered as "Honni soit qui mal y pense" (the past participle of the modern verb honnir being honni). It is also written at the end of the manuscript Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but it appears to have been a later addition.
History and translation
According to historian Elias Ashmole, the foundation of the Garter occurred when King Edward III of England prepared for the Battle of Crécy and gave "forth his own garter as the signal." Another theory suggests "a trivial mishap at a court function" when King Edward III was dancing with Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. Her garter slipped down to her ankle causing those around her to snigger at her humiliation. In an act of chivalry Edward placed the garter around his own leg saying, "Honi soit qui mal y pense. Tel qui s'en rit aujourd'hui, s'honorera de la porter."
The two phrases are often translated as follows: "A scoundrel, who thinks badly by it" or "Shame on him who suspects illicit motivation," followed by, "Those who laugh at this today, tomorrow will be proud to wear it." Other translations include: "Spurned be the one who evil thinks", "Shame be to him who thinks ill of it," and "Evil on him who thinks evil."
David Nash Ford observes that although "Edward III may outwardly have professed the Order of the Garter to be a revival of the Round Table, it is probable that privately its formation was a move to gain support for his dubious claim to the French throne. The motto of the Order is a denunciation of those who think ill of some specific project, and not a mere pious invocation of evil upon evil-thinkers in general. 'Shame be to him who thinks ill of it' was probably directed against anyone who should oppose the King's design on the French Crown."
In British heraldry, the motto Honi soit qui mal y pense is used either as a stand alone motto upon a motto scroll, or upon a circular representation of the garter. Knights and Ladies of the Garter are entitled to encircle the shield of their arms with the garter and motto (e.g. The 1st Duke of Marlborough). The latter usage can also be seen in the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, with the motto of the Royal arms, Dieu et mon droit, being displayed on a scroll beneath the shield. As part of the Royal Arms, the motto is displayed in many public buildings in Britain and colonial era public buildings in various parts of the Commonwealth (such as all Courts of England and Wales). The Royal Arms (and motto) appear on many British government official documents (e.g. the front of current British passports); on packaging and stationery of companies operating under Royal Warrant (e.g. the banner of the Times, which uses the Royal coat of arms of Great Britain circa 1714 to 1800; and are used by other entities so distinguished by the British monarch (e.g. as the official emblem of the Royal Yacht Britannia).
Several military organisations in the Commonwealth incorporate the motto inscribed upon a garter of the order within their badges (or cyphers) and some use Honi soit qui mal y pense as their motto. Corps and regiments using the motto in this fashion are ('*' indicates usage as a motto in addition to inclusion in the badge):
- British Army: the Royal Horse Artillery; Household Cavalry Regiment; Life Guards (motto appears in the Garter Star representation worn on Life Guard officer's helmets rather than in the unit badge); Blues and Royals; Grenadier Guards*;Coldstream Guards; Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment; Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Corps of Royal Engineers; and the Royal Logistic Corps (which in April 1993 became an amalgamation of the trades of five corps, which included the Royal Corps of Transport and the Royal Army Service Corps plus the Postal and Courier Services of the Royal Engineers, all of these forming Corps used the motto inscribed garter in their badge).
- Australian Army: the Royal Australian Engineers* (motto is one of two used); Royal Australian Army Service Corps (merged in 1973 into the newly raised RACT (and who did not use the motto), and the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps);
- Canadian Army: The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Royal Montreal Regiment* and The Canadian Grenadier Guards.
- New Zealand Army: the 6th Hauraki Infantry Regiment.
The phrase is incorporated into the elaborate figure-head of the HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship at the historic Battle of Trafalgar.
Between 1895 and 1915, "blue books" were published in Storyville as guides to prostitution for visitors to the New Orleans district services including house descriptions, prices, particular services and the "stock" each house had to offer. The Storyville blue-books were inscribed with the motto: "Order of the Garter: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense (Shame to Him Who Evil Thinks)."
Robert A. Heinlein's novel Friday makes use of the expression in Heinlein's usual irreverent manner. The protagonist, a female secret agent, is asked by her hostess Janet how Friday feels about females (in a sexual connotation). When pressed by males present to hear Friday's response, she claims (falsely) that Friday had whispered "honi soit qui mal y pense" into her ear.
The phrase is framed on the wall of Mrs. Peck's office in Deborah Eisenberg's short story 'The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor' in the collection Transactions in a Foreign Currency.
It appears in Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor", Act V, Scene V.
It appears in Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina", Part 1, Chapter 17.
It appears on the coat of arms above the lower main gate of the castle of the German city of Tübingen.
It appears in the comments of the source code for the master ignition routine of the Apollo 13 lunar module.
"[T]he motto of the English royal house" is found in Will Self's novelette, "Cock," toward the end of the chapter entitled "The Lager of Lamot" as being emblazoned on cans of 'Premier Class' beer.
Until 1997, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" appeared prominently on Hong Kong banknotes, along with the Royal coat of arms. Hence that phrase, along with "Dieu et mon droit," which also appeared on the colonial currency, could be considered the motto of colonial Hong Kong.
In 2010, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Donald Tsang quoted "honi soit qui mal y pense" in the old Legislative Council Chamber. He noted the French motto was on the emblem of the British royal coat of arms that used to hang above the Speaker's seat. It was replaced with the SAR emblem in 1997. He said the blast from the past should remind everyone in the chamber to be responsible for how they talk. This was a reaction to several lawmakers' misbehaviour during the Chief Executive's Question and Answer Session. They were soon removed from the chamber.
The phrase is parodied (via mistranslation) in 1066 and All That as, "Honey, your silk stocking is hanging down."
- Dieu et mon droit, the motto of the British Monarch
- Ich dien, the motto on the Prince of Wales's feathers
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- "Official Lineages Volume 3, Part 2: The Royal Montreal Regiment". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces. 9 September 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
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