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BARBICAN LIFE


Afterthoughts


Kevin Kiernan puts our Latin to the test with his unique perspective on some well known coats of arms, mottos and logos


Kevin Kiernan W


henever I see the City of London’s Coat of Arms and motto, dotted around the Estate,


I always feel comforted that, with all the money that has doubtless been spent on our new image, we have retained both these traditional elements. The motto, as I assume we all know, is ‘Domine dirige nos’. Guide us, O Lord. I used to think that it was Steer us, O Lordwhich rather suggests that God could be our chauffeur. That would never do, The shield is flanked by a dragon each side which implies that we are, wisely, hedging our bets and enlisting support from some mythical creatures as well as the Biblical God.


What about our neighbouring boroughs? Hackney has no motto and, instead of the Coat of Arms, has a rather strange Logo which suggests that they were at the back of the queue when the Logos were being handed out. Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lambeth and Camden all Ditto (eg Logo and no motto). Westminster, as you would expect, has a Coat of Arms and a Latin motto. ‘Custodi Civitatem Domine’ – which means 'Guard th


Axis of Terror is a bit non-PC then perhaps the Axis of the Differently Objectived.)


The advantage of a Coat of Arms over a Logo is that once you change to a Logo, designers feel that they must be paid to update it regularly or change it completely. There is also the law of unintended consequences. For example the Iranians feel that the London 2012 logo (never that popular in the first place) spells out Zion. Islington have a Coat of Arms and a motto in English. Rather amusingly its website contains an apology about using English. They say that had it been in Latin, Islington Latin scholars would have argued over the exact translation. I have some sympathy with this. Latin sayings do tend to be brief. After all, as the only way the Romans could jot something down was by taking a chisel to a block of stone, they kept things short. But this often adds to ambiguity. For example the well known phrase ‘in loco parentis’ some might think means ‘My dad’s a train driver.’


However my sympathy for Islington’s position diminishes when you see that their motto is ‘W


e serve’. e


City, O Lord'. This seems more useful than ours - Guide us, O Lord. Divine guidance is a good thing and certainly cheaper than legal advice, but you never quite know if or when you have received it. If, for example, I am on a diet but feel I deserve a treat, should I take a sign at Paul offering 50% discount on cakes and tarts as a divine sign to tuck in? Churches take delight in interpreting things differently which is all very confusing. However asking God to guard the City, well that’s pretty foolproof. No interpretation needed. A God who can engineer the Big Bang can out-calibre anything that the Axis of Terror have got up its sleeve. (If the


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The mind boggles as to how this, even in Latin, could be the subject of so much heated debate amongst the N1/N5 chattering classes. I can imagine that the conversation at the Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is of little else. (Although you tend to hear Anglo Saxon rather than Latin at football matches). Equally the buzz around Chapel Market must have been rich with the linguistic possibilities that Latin offers. In any event I am sure that Islington Council would have had a working party and Transition Director overseeing the change from Latin to English. Ironically Prince Charles has a similar motto to Islington Council – ‘Ich Dien’ which translates as ‘I serve’.


He got over the Latin problem by using German instead, of course. The Queen uses French – Dieu et Mon Droit. Odd choices perhaps, but had we been successfully invaded by Napoleon or Hitler we need not have had to change the mottoes – a useful efficiency. On the question of Royal mottoes, it’s a pity that Westminster Abbey’s motto wasn’t ‘let no tree enter’ and then that day would have been perfect. Sometimes private properties also indulge in a drop of Latin – ‘Beware of the dog’ with a picture of a fierce Alsatian looks a little infra dig so the Middle class home has the Latin equivalent ‘Cave canem’. On first seeing this I thought it was pointing to the dangers of tinned food which would, of course, resonate with middle class values (with a few honourable exceptions such as tinned tomatoes). Commercial companies love their logos of course and their ‘tag lines’. John Lewis’s ‘Never knowingly undersold’ sounds as if it was meant to be in Latin rather than English, as does Adidas’s ‘Impossible is Noth ‘Y


ing’. Dell’s


ere’ sounds as if they are running a Lost Property Office. Ryanair don’t have a motto. As they regularly assert that their pricing policies are fair, but sadly misunderstood, could they at least be persuaded to have a Latin tag which could say ‘Cave extra ch the customer work it out.


ours is h argia’ and let My favourite motto is the Brownies’


and’It sets its sights a little lower that the Scouts ‘Be prepared’ which sounds hard work, and is certainly a bit more practical that Antony’s ‘Lend me your ears’(which seemed an odd thing to ask for) and he did indeed come to a sticky end shortly after.


‘Lend a h


As for the future, Coats of Arms - are they too mediaeval? Logo? Motto? Latin? German? I am sure The Lord will dirige nos.


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