Definition of Motto

Motto is a word, phrase, or sentence, declaring the principles or belief. Etymologically, the term motto has been derived from a Latin term, muttire, which means to murmur or mutter. It entered the English vocabulary in 1796 as motto which means proverbial maxim that is pithy and concise. It is equal to an Italian term, motto, which means a motivational sentence, or a phrase that means to motivate a group of people. It also works as a slogan. It could be in any language, though, the western world mostly applies Latin for such phrases or sentences.

Examples of Motto in Literature

Example #1

“Motto” by Langston Hughes

I play it cool
And dig all jive
That’s the reason
I stay alive.

My motto,
As I live and learn,
Dig And Be Dug
In Return.

 Although this short and pithy poem does not show the motto of the African Americans living in the United States, yet it gives clues to what a motto is and how it is adopted. Perhaps, the objective of Langston Hughes is to ask his race to give a tit-for-tat reply to racial discrimination and apply this as a motto as the last two lines demonstrate it.

Example #2

From Animal Farm by George Orwell

Once again this argument was unanswerable. Certainly, the animals did not want Jones back; if the holding of debates on Sunday mornings was liable to bring him back, then the debates must stop. Boxer, who had now had time to think things over, voiced the general feeling by saying:”If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” And from then on he adopted the maxim, “Napoleon is always right,” in addition to his private motto of “I will work harder.

This passage occurs in Animal Farm of George Orwell. The old horse, Boxer, sees that the new farm demands work, he creates new slogans for him such as “Napoleon is always right” and creates his own motto that “I will work harder.” It is a very good example of a motto that George Orwell creates for the animals.

Example #3

From Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Do it at once,’ said Bounderby, ‘has always been my motto from a child. When I thought I would run away from my egg-box and my grandmother, I did it at once. Do you the same. Do this at once!’ ‘Are you walking?’ asked his friend. ‘I have the father’s address. Perhaps you would not mind walking to town with me?’ ‘Not the least in the world,’ said Mr. Bounderby, ‘as long as you do it at once!’

This passage occurs in the novel of Charles Dickens, Hard Times. Bounderby, the owner of the factory, says “Do it at once” and this sentence becomes an identity for him. This identity is a slogan as well and a reflection of his persona. When a motto also becomes a reflection of a person, it depicts the personality of the person as this shows that Bounderby wants work done immediately.

Example #4

From Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“Like as not we got to be together a blamed long time on this hyer raft, Bilgewater, and so what’s the use o’ your bein’ sour? It ‘ll only make things on comfortable. It ain’t my fault I warn’t born a duke, it ain’t your fault you warn’t born a king—so what’s the use to worry? Make the best o’ things the way you find ‘em, says I—that’s my motto. This ain’t no bad thing that we’ve struck here—plenty gruband an easy life—come, give us your hand, duke, and le’s all be friends.”

This passage occurs in Huckleberry Finn in which he tells that they should not worry when Huck meets Bilgewater and tells him that they should make the best use of things that are available to them. Therefore, it is his motto and he says it clearly that “that’s m motto.” The full motto is that he wants him to use the things that are available to them to benefit them at the moment.

Example #5

From brave new world by Aldous Huxley

Standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg.” Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!” The voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm.” You really know where you are. For the first time in history.” He quoted the planetary motto. “Community, Identity, Stability.” Grand words. “If we could bokanovskify indefinitely the whole problem would be solved.”

The motto comes in this passage from brave new world by Aldous Huxley that is “Community, Identity and Stability.” It takes the form of Grand words for Oceania where it is propagated as the motto of the state. This motto has become a catchword for all the citizens of Oceania. Similarly, mottos become catchwords in states and countries.

Example #6

The motto of the United States

This phrase is inscribed in Latin language on the coins of the United States. It actually means “out of many, one” which has been changed to ‘in God, we trust” that was also included in the Pledge. It seems that most of the US citizens consider it as a sign of pluralism of the United States. Hence, it has become almost a national motto and everybody in the United States knows it. Similar to that, several other nations have adopted their own mottos such as the motto of England Dieu et mon Droit.” Similarly, an interesting motto whenever is mentioned gives a good picture of the French Revolution such as “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.”

Functions of Motto

Although a motto is a brief phrase or sentence and works as a motivator, it includes deep wisdom that only the masters can think of. In literature, it is often used in speeches or where patriotism is required. It is also used for communities, countries, and states when governments want to make people work harder for their betterment. Both, Animal Farm and 1984 are very good examples as both novels present a picture of states where mottos become a necessity.