Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Finding your inner Red Dragon

What ever became of British PM Gordon Brown's plan to remedy a nagging national problem? Great Britain has no motto. All the good ones have been taken. The best one, "In God We Trust," represents the United States -- in fact, it's so good that it serves for Nicaragua as well. We're twins. There was a big noise about this British lack, in Nov of '07, but since then, silence. No motto, and no news of one. It's like a conspiracy.

Mottoes of course really do tend to be pretty lame. Mostly they mention Unity! and Work! and Prosperity! Like a committee of bureaucrats thought it up, or undergraduates. As if slogans define reality. Word magic. But some fit the bill really well.

Canada's is "From sea to sea." Good lord. That's it? Not even a "shining"? Technically it should be "From sea to sea to sea" -- the Arctic is after all a sea. If it's mere geographical description they're after, I propose this, even more accurate: "Canada, second largest country by landmass." Or, "We're empty, mostly." Still, it does seem to capture the Canadian character. Luxembourg gets it right too. "We wish to remain what we are." Middle age after all is not old. Sweden's is somehow perfect: "For Sweden, with the times." No, it probably doesn't mean anything. But it's so Swedish. I think Cuba's is quite apt: "Homeland or death." I'd amend it though, to "Homeland or your death."

Some are just creepy and weird. Austria had "AEIOU." Um, okay. What's creepy is that the best theory is that it stands for the Latin, "Austriae est imperare orbi universo" -- "Austria is destined to rule the world." Maybe they dumped it after that little problem with Hitler, an Austrian. Syria, that Baathist paradise, has this: "Arabic, Unity, Freedom, Socialism." Sort of a totalitarian grab-bag. Right up there with the USSR: "Proletarians of all countries, Unite!"

Some get pretty didactic. Turkey's is "Sovereignty rests unconditionally with the nation." It's like a lecture from the principal. "Be sure to wash your hands with hot water and soap." Some are just a little sad. Vietnam: "Independence, Liberty and Happiness." How sad.

Good ones? Scotland: "No one provokes me with impunity." Wales: "The red dragon should go forward." Armenia really gets it right: "One nation, one culture." Hmm. D'you suppose we could borrow that one for a while? And then there's Montenegro: "Manliness and heroism." Yeah! AEIOU!

Some are contradictory. Columbia -- "Freedom and Order." Um, yeah ... but which? Guatemala's is more true to life: "Grow free and fertile." Puts me in mind of hippies for some reason, and body hair. What is it with you and body hair all the time? Are you Guatemalan? And Belize ... well, you tell me: "Under the shade I flourish." Some sort of frog? -- a mushroom? It's like Lesotho's -- "Peace, rain, prosperity." Rain? Is there room for "mudslides" in there? I may have misread it, but I think Guinea's is "Worry and sodomy." I might be wrong.

So PM Brown asked the Brits to start thinking up mottoes. A number of proposals were made. In no particular order:

"England, civilising savages since 1649."
"Give us a kiss."
"Once great: Britain."
"No problem left untaxed."
"Americans who missed the boat."
"At least we're not French."
"Best before Nineteen Thirty-nine."
"May contain nuts."
"Wallowing in a postcolonial miasma."
"We made other countries great."
"One nation under the thumb."
"Hanging on in quiet desperation."

You get the feeling they didn't quite enter entirely into the spirit of the thing. Or maybe too well. Might I suggest one?

God Save the Queen.


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