A motto (derived from the Latin muttum, 'mutter', by way of Italian motto, 'word' or 'sentence') is a sentence or phrase expressing a belief or purpose, or the general motivation or intention of an individual, family, social group, or organisation. Mottos (or mottoes) are usually found predominantly in written form (unlike slogans, which may also be expressed orally), and may stem from long traditions of social foundations, or from significant events, such as a civil war or a revolution. A motto may be in any language, but Latin has been widely used, especially in the Western world.
In heraldry, a motto is often found below the shield in a banderole; this placement stems from the Middle Ages, in which the vast majority of nobles possessed a coat of arms complete with a motto. In the case of Scottish heraldry, it is mandated to appear above the crest. Spanish coats of arms may display a motto in the bordure of the shield. In heraldic literature, the terms 'rallying cry' respectively 'battle banner' are also common, which date back to the battle cry, and is usually located above the coat of arms.
In English heraldry, mottos are not granted with armorial bearings, and may be adopted and changed at will. In Scottish heraldry, mottos can only be changed by re-matriculation, with the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Although unusual in England, and perhaps outside English heraldic practice, there are some examples, such as in Belgium, of the particular appearance of the motto scroll and letters thereon being blazoned; a prominent example is the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States (which is a coat of arms and follows heraldic conventions), the blazon for which specifies that the motto scroll is held in the beak of the bald eagle serving as the escutcheon's supporter.
- County of Somerset in England: Sumorsǣte ealle (All the men of Somerset), Anglo-Saxon.
- South Cambridgeshire in the English Fens: Niet Zonder Arbyt (Nothing without work), Dutch, originally the motto of Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden, who drained The Fens in the 17th century.
- South Africa: ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke (Unity in diversity), ǀXam.
- Shire of Shetland: Með lögum skal land byggja (By law shall the land be built up), Old Norse.
A canting motto is one that contains word play. For example, the motto of the Earl of Onslow is Festina lente (literally 'make haste slowly'), punningly interpreting 'on slow'. Similarly, the motto of the Burgh of Tayport, Te oportet alte ferri (It is incumbent on you to carry yourself high), is a cant on 'Tayport at auld Tay Ferry', also alluding to the local lighthouse. The motto of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity, is a backronym of the letters F.B.I.
- United in diversity, the motto of the European Union (EU)
- In God We Trust, the motto of the United States (USA)
- United we stand, divided we fall[clarification needed]
In literature, a motto is a sentence, phrase, poem, or word; prefixed to an essay, chapter, novel, or the like, suggestive of its subject matter. It is a short, suggestive expression of a guiding principle for the written material that follows.
- List of Latin phrases
- List of mottos
- List of national mottos
- Mission statement
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Mottos are not necessarily hereditary, and can be adopted and changed at will.
- "USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81)". tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil. Archived from the original on 10 October 2007. Retrieved 23 October 2007.
- Cassells, Vic (2000). The capital ships: Their battles and their badges. Kangaroo Press. p. 190.
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- "South Cambridgeshire". rsnonline.org.uk. Rural Services Network. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
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- The Manual of Heraldry : being a concise description of the several terms used, and containing a dictionary of every designation in the science. Illustrated by four hundred engravings on wood (5th ed.). London, England: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co. 1800. p. 132. OCLC 1049649069. OL 24349702M. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
- Mark Antony Lower (October 1860). "Onslow". Patronymica Britannica: A Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom. London, England: John Russell Smith. ISBN 9780788404566.
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- Stevenson, Robert Louis (1907). Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. London, England: Chatto & Windus.