The B1G List: Ranking the State Mottos of the Big Ten

By Johnny Ginter on April 29, 2013 at 4:30p
We hear you, Pennsylvania


Everybody has one, whether they think they do or not. Sometimes it can be as simple as "if I found it on the ground and it's edible and non-poisonous, you'd better believe that it's got a 65% chance of going in my mouth at some point," or "try to avoid the existential terror of contemplating your place in this universe from both a spatial and practical standpoint."

But either way, it's an omnipresent guiding philosophy that people will usually wildly interpret, leaving you to explain to your mom, in an increasingly irritated tone of voice, that just because it's in Latin doesn't mean that you're a witch and yes, you do like it on your neck as a permanent tattoo (plenty of successful CEOs, US presidents, and professional baseball players had neck tattoos, MOM).

And, like last week, mottos also provide us with a great opportunity to tear down the fanbases of the other B1G teams while simultaneously building ours up, with is always a nice fringe benefit. This week, we will look at the various state mottos of the Big Ten, from the bland to the indecipherable to the bland and indecipherable. Spoiler alert: it's all of them.


What Badger fans think it means: Kicking that Bret habit like a junkie that's hit rock bottom and strutting confidently (and mediocre-ly) into the future with their heads held high. 

What it really means: "Forward." Seriously, this is possibly the worst sate motto. It's literally one word, and it's not even in the top 500 words that anybody would ascribe to Wisconsin, ever. Why not just go with "Cheese" or "Drinking" or "Bleeuurrgurp," a word I just made up to describe that sensation you get from stifling a burp.

What I think it means: Wisconsin found out that there was some federal requirement that they needed a state motto to keep getting their highway repairs or something, panicked, and submitted the first thing they could think of.



What Indiana fans think it means: Wow, Indiana is a really happening place to live!

What it really means: That the ad executives who the state hired to come up with the motto were successful in convincing people from Indiana that their state is really a happening place to live.

What I think it means: On one hand, I kind of respect Indiana subtly acknowledging that the only time anyone thinks about their state is when they're driving through it. On the other hand, it's also like the most bland, boring, crowdsourced motto you could possibly come up with.


What Rutgers and Penn State fans think it means: Loving liberty a whole lot and then trying to come up with some alternative things to also love that sound vaguely patriotic so as to not to tip off any latent communism.

What it really means: Both states are trying to play up their "original 13 colonies" street cred but one is doing a much better job than the other (because people actually care about it being one of the original 13 colonies).

What I think it means: These mottos are exactly the same. I look at these adjectives or whatever the hell they're supposed to be and my eyes glaze over while a Schoolhouse Rock song plays in my head. The only thing that throws me slightly is the inclusion of "virtue" in Pennsylvania's motto, as if they're trying to convince me that they're not like all those other whorish other Mid-Atlantic states.


What Husker fans think it means: Husker fans reach back, far back, into their state's lengthy history to find a meaning that connects past to present and looks with a critical eye to the 1850s as they ahahaha just kidding, they probably think it's about corn or something.

What it really means: There are a lot of highly litigious farmers in the Great Plains region and Nebraska had to codify in their state motto that soybeans and corn must share an equal place setting at the table of justice.

What I think it means: I'm a high school history teacher and have spent the last 10 minutes trying to tease out some sort of Bleeding Kansas reference out of this thing, to no avail. It's probably just residual Live Aid hype.


What Illini fans think it means: "I dunno dude, something about a bank? Maybe?"

What Northwestern fans think it means: A reference to the idea of individual rights for states while at the same time noting the supremacy of the nation-state at the federal level.

What it really means: See above.

What I think it means: That I'm probably being a little too hard on the Illini, since probably every kid in the state has been drilled on Lincoln and popular sovereignty since the day they first stepped into school.


Translation: If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you

What Wolverine and Spartan fans think it means: It is in Latin and therefore cool despite probably having zero idea what it actually means without seeing the accompanying translation. Which I don't really fault them for, Latin being a dead language and all.

What it actually means: Michigan is a peninsula. And is nice to look at.

What I think it means: There had to be some kind of competition for the most literal state motto, because if you subtract "pleasant" from this, it's almost like a weird philosophical thought exercise. Also weird is the claim that Michigan is basically just "pretty good."


No, this does not mean Kirk Ferentz can do whatever the hell he wants to do.

What Hawkeye fans think it means: "Kirk Ferentz does whatever the hell he wants, all others pay cash."

What it actually means: If any of you even think about coming after the Ames Straw Poll, we will straight up destroy you.

What I think it means: I actually like Iowa a lot. In the abstract sense, not in the physical location sense (if your state seems boring to an Ohioan, you have problems), because Iowa has always seemed like a wildcard when it comes to individual rights and personal politics. I appreciate that, and it baffles me that they let known fly in the ointment Ferentz run rampant. Just pay him the cash and get him out of there already, damn.


Translation: The star of the North

What Gopher fans think it means: There is literally no sweeter sound than mangled French being spoken through a thick Minnesotan accent.

What it actually means: That Minnesota is the northernmost possible geographical location where it isn't yet depressing to refer to how far north it is.

What I think it means: Minnesota's state motto is the only state motto in French, which makes me think that they're up to something. However, the problem with anyone from Minnesota is that if they're up to something they're too polite to engage in any kind of lengthy subterfuge, so I'm not too worried about it.


Translation: Manly deeds, womanly words

What Terrapin fans think it means: Eeyyyyy patsa figoli! Porco rosso! Fettucini! Eeyyyy mi paisano! Pizza pizza pizza.

What it actually means: Slightly misogynist, it dates way, way back to the motto of a noble family. In fact, the Italian use is so archaic as to be grammatically incorrect.

What I think it means: This is a great motto, and I think it means that if Terrapin football wants to be cool, stupid alternate uniforms are not the way to go; I think 50k or so Terrapin fans screaming in broken Italian would be a lot more fun and impressive than the ridiculous Twitter fodder they trot out every year.


It's goooooddd

What Buckeye fans think it means: "With [Urban|Tressel|Cooper|Bruce|Hayes], all things are possible."

What it really means: The state of Ohio was blessed with a ridiculous bounty of good soil, generally non-deadly weather, amazing football, and Skyline Chili. When this part of the country was settled in the mid-to-late 1700s, colonists and early Americans were stunned at the richness of what the state could provide for them after eking out a living amid the rocks and scratch of New England. Ohio was a godsend for them, and that's commemorated in the state motto, as drawn from the book of Matthew in the Bible.

What I think it means: "With God, all things are possible. Like two perfect seasons in a row oh please oh please oh please."

And that's it! You have now been mottotized, with, once again, Ohio coming out on top of the assorted Big Ten rabble. Join us next week as we take a look at the most controversial of topics, state wildflowers. Oh man, I hope we win!

The B1G List: State Birds | State Mottos

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