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. 


  1. A motto is an expression of a guiding principle so it should change only when the state has become unprincipled. The current motto suggests the state was unprincipled when it was first adopted, although the first female lieutenant governor we had certainly embodied the motto. On the other hand, we have a feisty senator. I suggest a new motto: “Sed hoc facite periculo.” (“We take action but it will cost you.”)

    1. I like the suggestion. As to Kennedy-Townsend, I know she did little, but I didn't think she talked a lot either.

  2. Didn't former maryland governor Spiro T Agnew go to federal prison for living Bob Bain's suggested memo? My first memory of how different Maryland was - 1955. I was a kid and riding with my dad. He was driving a Ford flatbed truck from Long Island to Alabama. We were moving because Republic Aircraft laid him off, he was an inspector on the F-105 fighter project and the USAF had cut back on its delivery on the fighter-bomber. We stopped outside Annapolis for lunch. While we ate, dad gave me change to feed the slot machine at the bar where we were sitting. Next memory: Maryland declares war on speeders. While I was stationed there after tours in Turkey and Alaska. Was going on leave for couple of weeks and guy agreed to drive me to Unions Station in DC. Fresh off midnight shift, we're on I-495. Friend drove a GTO. Over the speed limit. Chevy SS pulls up along side and wants to race. Boom! off we go. Sunday, no traffic at all. As we go under and overpass, my friends says he hopes no trooper up there - we're doing over 110. I get back from and see him on evening shift. few days later he got a ticket in mail, ordering him report to court the next week. It includes a note: "Oh, we got your friend too!" He shows up in dress whites. Other driver walks in looking like he'd been up all night. Judge asks my friend where he's stationed. "NSA, Ft. Meade." Gets a warning. Other guy, it's his 3rd ticket in a month. He goes straight to jail, 30 days, one year suspended license. He was driving on a suspension!! My family originally emigrated there from England in 1609. Did not stay, too Catholic. Settled around Culpepper, then some moved south, down coast to Carolinas. Then moved west from Charleston. Annapolis was cool when I worked for a company based there. Great sailing in the bay. Oh, and blue crab in St. Michaels or drinks in the 'Bid Bar at Inn at Perry's Cabin, log races. Maritime museum. Robert Morris Inn. I saw George McGovern there. There's a decent book store in Boonsboro, Inn and a tavern, all thanks to Nora Roberts! Always a warm welcome at Joe's house!!

  3. Somebody had to respect us navy-swabs. Glad to see you got a benefit out of dress whites. I don't think I ever did.