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The enduring importance of Latin: universities and their mottos

Paul Greatrix reflects on the use of Latin mottos in universities
This article is more than 5 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Many universities, as they are established, naturally adopt a logo, a crest and a motto.

These were presumably meant to encapsulate the ambition and vision for the new institution and provide a motivation for students and staff alike. It’s fair to say that with the general societal decline in Latin knowledge and the growth of more sophisticated marketing approaches the Latin motto has fallen by the wayside on the whole.

It’s not just an issue for ancient and older universities. Many newer universities have also adopted a motto which is, more often than not, in Latin – though some UK universities do have English mottos. Around the world a similar mix can be observed, with many universities plumping for Latin rather than their native languages. China, Malaysia, India and Mexico have generally avoided the Latin trend but universities in most other countries seem to find it irresistible.

A “small but excellent” list

A few examples of some of the best mottos around:

Fudan University – Rich in knowledge and tenacious of purposes, inquiring with earnestness and reflecting with self-practice
Calgary University actually has a Gaelic motto – Mo Shùile Togam Suas – I will lift up my eyes
University of Gothenburg – Tradita innovare innovata tradere – A Tradition of Invention, an Inventor of Tradition
University of Potsdam – Klein aber fein – Small but excellent
Macquarie University – And Gladly Teche – And gladly teach — Middle English from The Canterbury Tales
University of Mumbai – in Sanskrit – The Fruit of Learning is Character and Righteous Conduct
University College Cork – Where Finbarr taught, let Munster learn – a reference to St Finbarr, the patron saint of Cork
University of Winchester in UK – Wisdom ond Lar – Wisdom and Knowledge – from Old English
Nankai University – Dedication to Public Interests, Acquisition of All-round Capability, Aspiration for Progress with Each Passing Day
Swansea: Gweddw crefft heb ei dawn – Technical skill is bereft without culture – in Welsh

Latin homework

So, time for a quick quiz. Without googling – can you match the UK university with the motto?

1 Nisi sapientia frustra – Without knowledge, all is in vain
2 Altiora Petamus – Let us seek higher things
3 In animo et veritate – In spirit and truth
4 Post nubes, lux – Out of darkness, light

5 Via, Veritas, Vita – The Way, the Truth, and the Life
6 Indagate Fingite Invenite – Explore, Dream, Discover
7 Fundamenta eius super montibus sanctis – Her foundations are upon the holy hills
8 Ut Vitam Habeant et Abundantius – That they have life and have it more abundantly
9 Sapientia urbs conditur – A city is built on wisdom
10 Patet omnibus veritas – Truth lies open to all

A Durham University
B University of Glasgow
C York St John University
D Plymouth University
E University of Gloucestershire
F Lancaster University
G Napier University
H University of Salford
I University of Nottingham
J Cranfield University

Post your answers below and I’ll score them. Plaudits for the best score. Full answers to follow in due course.

9 responses to “The enduring importance of Latin: universities and their mottos

  1. 5 is B! My ‘alma mater’. Are we ruining this for people who might know more than one each?

  2. Come on boffins! There are definitely some correct answers above but is anyone going to get more than one or two right?

  3. 7 is A (currently writing from there).
    6 sounds relatively new so J or H?
    4 could also be J (Cranfield’s history of aviation?)
    The rest are pretty standard, thus pretty difficult! So the following are just blind guesses:
    9 is I (civic tradition?)
    1 is E
    3 is C
    5 is G
    8 is B
    10 is D
    2 is F

  4. So ‘sapientia’ is ‘knowledge’ in Edinburgh (Napier) and ‘wisdom’ in Nottingham… (I know the latter but cheated by googling the former) for thought there.

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