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A motto (Italian for pledge, sentence; plural: motti) is a phrase meant to formally describe the general motivation or intention of a social group or organization. A motto may be in any language, but Latin is the most used. The local language is usual in the mottos of governments.


In heraldry, a motto is often depicted on a scroll in an achievement of arms, typically below the shield or else above the crest as in Scots heraldry.

In English and Scottish heraldry mottoes are not granted with armorial bearings, and may be adopted and changed at will. Although very unusual and perhaps outside regular heraldic practice, there are some examples of the particular appearance of the motto scroll and letters thereon being blazoned.

A canting motto is one that contains word play. For example, the motto of the Earl of Onslow is Festina lente, punningly interpreting on-slow (literally "make haste slowly").

The motto of the County of Somersetmarker is in Anglo-Saxon; that of South Cambridgeshiremarker in the English Fensmarker is in Dutch.

Ships and submarines in the Royal Navy each have a badge and motto, as do units of the Royal Air Force.


In literature, a motto is a sentence, phrase, poem, or word prefixed to an essay, chapter, novel, or the like suggestive of its subject matter. It is a short, suggestive expression of a guiding principle for the written material that follows.

For example, Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the CĂ©vennes uses mottos at the start of each section.

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