North Carolina boasts beautiful mountains and a warm, inviting coast; in between are some pretty incredible places, too, including the region right here which most of you reading this (and me writing …
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North Carolina boasts beautiful mountains and a warm, inviting coast; in between are some pretty incredible places, too, including the region right here which most of you reading this (and me writing it) call home.
“I like calling North Carolina home,” the refrain of a tourism jingle for the Tar Heel State a few decades back when I was a junior high schooler, still pops randomly into my head from time to time, the tune and sentiment still agreeable to me after all those years.
But it’s more than just geography that I like about North Carolina.
Though I was born and raised here, I’d like to think that no matter where I happened to come from, I’d recognize the considerable merits of North Carolina for, if no other reason, our state’s motto: Esse quam videri.
Those three words, along with “e pluribus unim,” constitute nearly all the Latin I know, not counting the various (and hilarious) Latin twists on the names of the Road Runner (“Accelleratti Incredibus”) and Wile E. Coyote (“Carnivorous Vulgaris”) from the classic cartoons.
Not only was our motto the first Latin I learned, they were also among the earliest words I learned, period, thanks to the Durham County Public Library, which had available at the circulation desk free bookmarks with facts about our state listed on them. Thanks to those bookmarks (the colors varied — I had blue, green and yellow versions — but the content was always the same, the state seal appearing at the top) I knew the state tree (Longleaf Pine) and flower (Dogwood) and a few other bits of trivia. At that time, I don’t think we yet had a state fossil (the tooth of a Megalodon) or beverage (milk) or dance (clogging), or if we did they weren’t on the bookmarks.
Though I reveled in all of my newly-discovered facts about my home state (to this day, I rarely spot a cardinal that I don’t recognize it as “state bird”), for whatever reason the state motto (translated on the bookmark, “To be, rather than to seem,” for non-Latin speakers like me) captivated my young mind. Good to know those other facts, yes, but I was especially pleased to learn those exotic Latin words and to contemplate their important meaning.
The bookmark provided the translation. But we could all create our own paraphrase: Be true. Don’t be a poser. Don’t fake it. Even Nike’s trademarked “Just do it” is in the same philosophical ballpark.
All of those paraphrases capture the gist of North Carolina’s Latin motto, but aren’t nearly as inspired (or as inspirational) as the original. But the sentiment remains solid and, for my money, those three Latin words are indeed words to live by, which is, after all, what a motto should be.
Pair our state motto with the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) and you’ve got a solid two-part foundation (in words) of a good way to proceed (in life), if you ask me.
It’s a perfect state motto, in other words.
No other state’s motto, I think, even comes close, though I admit I may be biased.
But consider ...
I’m not moved or inspired by, say, the state motto of Alabama. In its original Latin, the Alabama motto, unwieldy and clunky, is “Audemus jura nostra defendere.” Even my spellcheck doesn’t like the phrase, and I like it even less in its English translation: “We dare to defend our rights.” That’s not much for a young kid with a bookmark to chew on, if you ask me.
How about Connecticut’s? It’s a beautiful state. Nothing wrong with it. But the state’s motto (“Qui transtulit sustinet,” or, “He who transplanted sustains”) just gives me the urge to scratch my head.
Idaho chose for its motto “Esto perpetua,” or “Let it be perpetual,” which may or may not have something to do with potatoes.
The maverick state of Maryland skipped Latin entirely, opting for the Italian “Fatti maschi, parole femmine,” which in English is “Manly deeds, womanly words.” I offer no further comment on that, other than a bit more head-scratching.
To be fair, I like the simplicity of New York’s and California’s mottos, “Excelsior!” (“Ever upward!”) and “Eureka” (“I have found it”), respectively, though neither, sounding more like exclamations you’d find in a superhero comic book than a motto, compares to North Carolina’s poetic, perfect and profound “Esse quam videri.”