Saturday, May 24, 2014

Progress In America:

(8) Drive Gently -- Really?

    Are you connected to Maryland?  Maybe a student here?  A resident?  A citizen?  An occasional visitor?  Do you have a relative or friend who is an inhabitant of the state?  Do you drive through it?

    Even if you only drive regularly on that great eastern highway, I-95, you have seen the “Welcome to Maryland” signs along with one of its tag line greetings. 

    For years “Maryland: More Than You Can Imagine” adorned these welcome signs.  But, for some reason, a few years ago all the tag lines on the signs changed.  Now they read “Please Drive Gently.”  As if such an appeal might change driving habits.  Have you wondered about it?  Was the old slogan dropped because Maryland just couldn’t keep up with the ever more powerful imaginations of Americans?  Or was it that Maryland had diminished in some important way?  In any case, clearly it is a disappointment: Maryland is no longer more than you can imagine.  Indeed, probably, it is now less.

    So as a citizen of this great state I began to worry.  I did research.  In my ignorance, I even confused the state slogan with the state motto.  Who even knows that the state motto isn’t ‘please drive gently?’  It is embarrassing to admit of such ignorance in public.  Hopefully, my writing about this will inform you, and thereby inoculate you from these embarrassments. 

   After months of research, I have discovered that the sign begging drivers not to drive violently has no real status.  It is just the tagline on the sign.  But Maryland does have a state motto and a slogan.  To clarify, the slogan is both less permanent and less singular than the state motto.  Mottoes, as you might expect, are more fitting, more permanent.  Take New Hampshire’s “Live free or die.”  There’s one for you!  Apparently all the states have mottoes. 

    Even the country has one (‘In God we trust’).  We are forever grateful that Eisenhower and the 1956 Congress had the wisdom to endow the country with such a fitting motto.  Of course the atheists object to this motto, but theistic trust amounts to a mighty thing.  It has been proven to be the cause of our many successes since Ike’s administration.

    Fittingly, Maryland too has a brilliant motto.  It has hung around unchanged a long time.  It started as the motto of Lord Baltimore’s great family: the Calverts.  Interestingly, though the family was English, their motto was Italian.   Some would even place its origin a century earlier with a pope!  (Before deriding this possibility be sure to see  the opinion piece in the Post.)  

    In any case, the Calvert’s motto has been the state’s motto since at least 1776.  It is even emblazoned on the state seal.  It being in Italian, it is understandable that you neither know it, nor have it memorized. 

    The motto is “Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine.” 

    Although the motto has been stable, its translation (translation is always an inexact art) has varied over the years.  The current standard, “Manly deeds, womanly words” is from 1975.  A more recent translation attempted to avoid the obvious sexism of the motto:  “Strong deeds, gentle words.”  This more PC translation was provided in 1993 by the State Archivist, Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse.  But it hasn’t stuck.  Other translations have been more embracing of its sexism, as for example, “Deeds are men, words are women” (1622), or “A woman for words and a man for deeds” (Maryland Manual, 1905).

    With the motto out of the way, let’s get back to the topic of the day: Our unstable taglines. Apparently the imagination one was a state slogan.  Shifts in the slogans seem to correlate with changes in our governor.  So around February, 2003, probably the then Governor Ehrlich took it upon himself to replace the no longer accurate slogan “More Than You Can Imagine.” 

    No fly-weight, Ehrlich must have realized that to raise Maryland’s rank as a tourist destination the slogan’s boast had problems.  After all, there were certain imaginable items missing in the state: glaciers, volcanoes, tropical rain forests, exotic black sand beaches, just to name the obvious.  But politically, he too wanted to push the state’s tourism.  And he must have liked the idea of overstatement: why be hemmed in by reality?  

    So we got a new slogan: “America in Miniature.”  This too could have been designed to bring in tourists.  Although Maryland is surrounded by hordes of people, I don’t believe the bulge in tourism ever developed.  And for good reason.  Americans aren’t dumb.  They know the real Grand Canyon is somewhere out west, so why travel here to find the miniature one?  Similarly the real Rocky Mountains, the authentic Great Salt Lake.  Empty hotel rooms in our grand destinations (Baltimore, Rockville, Landover, Jessup) caused by such ineffective sloganeering, were quickly understood to be a political threat by the reigning politicos.  Stuck with such poor wordsmanship, the governor must have worried that the voters of our great ‘Old Line State’ might kick him out of office.  And they did.

    They replaced him by a man more talented with words: Martin O’Malley.  (O’Malley is a renowned policy wonk.)  He won in a landslide.  We citizens were sure the new governor’s phrases could properly bait Maryland’s renowned tourist traps.  He would capture the tourist dollars of Americana. 

    He tried.  But to what avail?  The slogan was changed to “Seize the Day off – Maryland.”  How inept.  In the real world chaos reigns and the wings of butterflies effect the course of history.  Again, even his great words could not fill hotels.  Of course, it wasn’t his fault.  An economic downturn afflicted the country and tourism experienced a slowdown.  Lucky for the gov, although it could be said many had many more days off to seize, no one blamed the state’s rise in unemployment on the slogan. 

    Fortunately, unlike some other plutocracies, we have periodic elections and so we can expect we will soon get a more effective slogan. 

    As to our state’s motto – that appears more stable.  Why this might be the case is beyond me.  If by chance you know – please enlighten me.