O Tempora, O Mores

O Tempora, O Mores

Latin – the language of ancient Rome; for centuries, the language of the Christian church and the academic and cultural discourse of western civilisation.

In 21st century Australia, Latin is a “dead” language, studied by few, understood well by fewer and spoken by virtually none.

When I admit to having studied Latin, I get quizzical looks from even the most erudite folk.  When Monty Python’s Life of Brian screened to packed cinemas in the late 70s, I alone chortled through the romanes eunt domus scene, (and even spotted a mistake!) whilst the rest of the audience watched on, silently bemused.

A surprisingly large number of AFL clubs have Latin mottos.  For the most part, they are clubs founded in the 19th century, at which time, Latin mottos were commonplace among the institutions that formed Australia’s predominantly Anglo-European society.

As Latin declined in use, so too, many of these mottos became trivial footnotes to their clubs’ identities.

For instance, how many Hawthorn supporters know that spectemur agendo is their motto?  This blandest of sentiments means “we are judged by our actions” – as if the other 17 clubs aren’t!

Essendon’s rather apologetic contribution is suaviter in modo, fortiter in re (“Gentle in manner, resolute in execution”).  Presumably they didn’t have Dean Wallis and Roger Merrett in mind when they came up with this natty line!

When you consider the spectacularly unsuccessful history of Footscray/Western Bulldogs, the motto, cede nullis (“Yield to none”), is, frankly, delusional.  No wonder the club doesn’t promote it much!

One could be similarly harsh about North Melbourne’s little-known motto victoria amat curam (“Victory demands dedication”), noting that five decades of “dedication” were required to achieve a maiden Premiership!

So most clubs have been happy to let their Latin mottos slide into obscurity.  But not all.  In fact, some still like to make a big deal of them.

The question is why would these bastions of blokey, plebeian, “pies and beer” culture, be so keen to promote slogans in an ancient language that no-one understands?

I think the movers and shakers at footy clubs see establishment institutions – governments, universities and posh schools – boasting Latin mottos and desire the same for their little fiefdoms.    Marketing departments are scrambling to differentiate their clubs from the pack and to do it with style and panache.   Whack in a Latin phrase in your club branding and you suddenly look exclusive.  The punters may not understand the words, but they recognise the veneer of class when they see it.

Well, I for one don’t buy it.  Collingwood Football Club’s current eagerness to ponce around under the floreat pica banner, brings to mind visions of nouveau riche bogans swilling Grange Hermitage, or young dopes swathed in Aussie Flag capes at Anzac Cove.   It’s a pretentious vanity statement.  And the problem with vanity statements is they’re usually conceived in ignorance, or worse, a little knowledge.

In fairness to Collingwood, floreat pica has a simple, blunt sentiment.  “May the Magpie prosper” is really just a dressed up version of “Carn the Pies”.  However, it contains a pretty major flaw.   You see, pica refers to the European Magpie (pica pica), (pictured below)

a very different critter from the one on the Collingwood emblem, which is clearly an Australian Magpie.

The Australian Magpie is not a pica at all.  Rather, it has the Latin moniker cracticus tibicen or, alternatively, gymnorhina tibicen, as I’m sure Eddie McGuire could inform us.

So, Collingwood fans, I’m afraid you either continue to march under a slogan that is zoologically incorrect, or you change it to floreat cracticus (or gymnorhina) tibicen, either of which might prove a bit of a mouthful when the vast majority of you struggle to form even simple English phrases!  (The Floreat Pica Society may need to hold an extraordinary general meeting to ponder this dilemma.)

Carlton goes a step further with its pretentiousness, including its motto mens sana in corpore sano in the club’s logo.  

This hackneyed phrase is generally taken to mean that physical exercise is a virtuous pursuit bringing mental or spiritual well-being.  However, it also takes us into the murky realm of using phrases out of context, a common problem with Latin mottos.  Its original context (it’s from one of Juvenal’s Satires written in the 2nd century A.D.) is a lengthy rant against greed, ambition and materialism that Juvenal saw around him.  The satire laments the futility of such pursuits, observing that the best you can hope for in old age is “a healthy mind in a healthy body”.

Thinking about Carlton’s regular dalliances with corruption, cheating, extravagance and egotism, one can hardly imagine a less appropriate motto.  I often wonder if some learned but mischievous scholar suggested this line to enjoy a private joke at the expense of an ignorant, narcissistic institution?  It wouldn’t be the first time.  The City of Melbourne’s motto, vires acquirit eundo, can be translated as the noble-sounding “it gathers strength as it goes”.  In context, however, this phrase, from Virgil’s Aeneid, was actually used to describe the rapidly spreading vicious rumours and salacious gossip about Dido and Aeneas’s scandalous love affair!

Carlton and Collingwood’s mottos were at least adopted by their clubs back in the days when Latin was still relatively widespread in Australian society.  No such excuse for the Adelaide Crows.  I suspect Natus ad magna gerenda (“Born to achieve great things”) wasn’t the sort of phrase you’d have regularly heard round the Adelaide arts precinct in 1991, let alone in the carpark at Westlakes.  Yet for some reason, the founding fathers of the Crows thought it would be smart to impose this slogan on “The Pride of South Australia”.  If it weren’t for the Crows’ longstanding sponsorship with Toyota, I’d suggest they might have thought it meant “Born to make Magnas” – back in the days when Adelaide still did!

Which leads us finally to good old fortius quo fidelius.  Sorry, Saints fans, but “strength through loyalty” is wildly off the mark as a descriptor of your club’s wretched culture and history.  The recent era of “Saints’ Footy” may have come closer to the spirit of the motto, but even that chapter ended in tears.  Ironically, Ross Lyon, when he left St Kilda, denied ever resorting to the concept of “loyalty” in attempting to motivate his players.  I wonder if he even knew what the St Kilda motto means!

I wonder also if Dayne Beams knows what it means.   Take a look at this picture of Beams, sans footy jumper.  Among the lurid artwork that adorns his upper body, fortius quo fidelius is tattooed on his chest in large, florid script.

Judging from Beams’ egregious example, the use of Latin now extends to individual “branding”, as though despoiling one’s torso with a meaningful phrase in an obscure language somehow adds depth and mystery to one’s persona.

Maybe one day, Beams will regret this permanent statement of misplaced allegiance.  Perhaps he could consider tattooing another Latin phrase below the first one – de quo pensabam? (OK, if you must know – “what was I thinking?”)

About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. I like to think up different ways to express the mottos. For instance “suaviter in modo, fortiter in re” could read “Sweetly in a way, strongly in a thing.”

  2. Dave Nadel says

    I want to defend Floreat Pica and Collingwood Football Club but before I get to that Stainless, I can’t help but point out that being the only person laughing in a movie isn’t necessarily a sign of erudition. When I first saw Blazing Saddles in 1974 I was the only person who laughed at the Yiddish speaking Indians, which I assume meant that I was the only Jewish person in the audience.

    While your classist comments about bogans are a little old and tired they are also ignorant.

    1. Just about every institution in Victoria from 1851 to 1965 has a Motto, either in Latin or French. Victoria Police now wears Uphold the Right on its uniforms but for most of its existence the badge said it in French “Tenez Le Droit” Most High school s in the 50s and 60s had Latin mottos but did not teach Latin. At Heiddelberg High, where I went to school, our motto was Ad Altoria (Towards Higher Things) and I believe they only taught Latin in their first year (1954) By the time I started there in 1959, French was the only language taught. (one class did German and then were messed up when the German teacher left and wasn’t replaced).

    Latin mottos were what people did in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Latin was seen as a mark of education. In 1965 you could not study Arts at Melbourne University unless you had Matriculated (6th form, now Year 12) in a Language otther than English.

    2. Collingwood was (like Fitzroy, Richmond, North Melbourne, Footscray and to some extent Carlton) a working class club but all of the working class clubs had committees lead by local small business people and authority figures. Any Irish Catholic child educated above Grade six in the late 19th century would have had some Latin.

    The following quote is from Wikipedia

    “The bird was named for its similarity in colouration to the European Magpie; it was a common practice for early settlers to name plants and animals after European counterparts.[4] However, the European Magpie is a member of the Corvidae, while its Australian counterpart is placed in the Artamidae family (although both are members of a broad corvid lineage). The Australian Magpie’s affinities with butcherbirds and currawongs were recognised early on and the three genera were placed in the family Cracticidae in 1914 by John Albert Leach after he had studied their musculature.[11] American ornithologists Charles Sibley and Jon Ahlquist recognised the close relationship between woodswallows and the butcherbirds in 1985, and combined them into a Cracticini clade,[12] which became the family Artamidae.[13] The Australian Magpie had been placed in its own genus Gymnorhina, however several authorities, Storr in 1952 and later authors including Christidis and Boles in their 2008 official checklist, place it in the butcherbird genus Cracticus, giving rise to its current binomial name; they argue that its adaptation to ground-living is not enough to consider it as a separate genus”.

    This suggests that the Australian Magpie was only recognised as a Cracticus rather than a Pica in 1914 some years after the Club had adopted its Floreat Pica motto.

  3. Mark Schwerdt says

    Central District still has the motto cede nullis as adopted from its initial links to Footscray – it seems rather appropriate (at least since 2000).

    Their alternative motto would have been “Born to make Holdens”, as half of the league side (and most of our dads/big brothers) were to be seen on the factory floor at Philip Highway whenever we made one of our annual school tours.

  4. Could we get a translation for two of the more suitable and potential Richmond mottos please:

    ‘Eternally ninth’

    ‘Mathematically possible’

    Check in with Frank Virgona, cult VFA Umpire and Xavier Latin teacher (and early adopter of shocking hair plugs) to assit if required


  5. John Harms says

    Now you’re talking Mark.

    Loved your piece Stainless, and I reckon I picked up on its tone.

    I think it is either an ideal preview of the Carlton-Collingwood clash on Friday night.

    When I put together the Salvador Allende Memorial Racing Alliance (SAMRA) to show how socialism works in horse-racing, Ir ealsied it was motivated by a desire to beat the bluebloods of the VRC at their own game. We needed two things: letterhead, and a Latin motto. I went for the double-barrel motto: one Latin phrase and one Australian phrase. The Latin: equi pecunia equus vittoria (equal money fast horse) and GO YOU BLOODY GOOD THING.

    The story is told in Memoirs of a Mug Punter, where you can also find the logo and the letterhead. (books available from me)

  6. LOL Sean. Here you go;

    “aeternaliter nono”

    “mathematice possibile”

    Or perhaps this one; “Dormire bene turbata tigris” (Sleep well troubled tiger)

  7. Lovely piece, Sam. Great research.
    John – May I recommend the Salvador Allende Memorial Betting Alliance (SAMBA). It does research on how to win on the punt by knowing which one is doped to the eyeballs today. And which jockey has been threatened with having his kneecaps removed if he doesn’t have a ‘quiet one’ on the fave.
    Alas SAMBA has unexpectedly had to pull up stumps. A Stewards Inquiry is still pending.

  8. As a kid i always thought Carlton’s motto was ‘Men Standing in a Corporate Stand’

  9. Salvador Allende, the murdered, elected President of Chile, has a ‘ betting syndicato’, or something similar named after him? More detail please.


  10. Lord Bogan says

    Enjoyable read Sam, apart from the gratuitous Collingwood/Bogan barbs. I wonder how many of the players actually know what their club motto means?

  11. The principal reason that so many organisations of all stripes used and continue to use Latin and French mottoes is to appeal to the hidden intellectual(read snob) in their members and followers.This,sadly, is pretentiousness in a minor key and also classist in a poor way.I wouldn’t have thought there’d be so many snobby ,classist, ornithologistically inclined amongst the Collingwood faithful,still clinging to the outmoded pre-AFL model of the suburb,the grocer and the Masons.
    By the way,relying on Wikipedia is not as scientific or indeed,reliable as some would have you believe.
    Dates and attributions get changed and not always for the better

  12. Richard Naco says

    I want the Giants to adopt the unofficial motto of the Australian Army: “Nil Carborundum Illigitatum” (and feel free to correct).

    The literal translation of which is generally (/corporally/ majorly/ but above all else, privately) accepted as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” (and feel free to leave completely as is).

  13. Stainless says

    Thanks all for the eclectic responses.

    Sean and Jeff – for all the reasons I’ve outlined, I’m not inclined to suggest any more mottos for clubs that don’t already have them, but I came up with “semper nonus” and “ab numeris possunt” (literally “by the numbers they can”) for Richmond. I’m also pondering a Latin translation for “losing the unloseable” as tomorrow’s game approaches!

    Dave – love the passionate defence of your club. The bogan references are admittedly very tired but they’ll keep coming as long as you sensitive Collingwood souls keep reacting to them. A favourite English motto of mine is “the reason we have stereotypes is because they’re true”.

    I think we’re actually in furious agreement on your points 1 and 2. It was entirely appropriate for 19th century footy clubs to adopt Latin mottos. But preserving and promoting Latin mottos in an era when most people know nothing about the language can easily become a superficial exercise in marketing spin and, as Greg says, snobbery.

    And thanks too for the lesson in ornithology. But isn’t justifying a motto on the grounds that it was adopted before science proved it wrong the same as saying “the Earth is flat and to hell what anyone else says otherwise”?

    Anyway, on more serious matters, I reckon the “cractici” will flourish tonight over the “healthy minds and healthy bodies”.

  14. Justin Porth says

    Mean-spirited snobbery disguised as intellectualism.

    Regarding your justification of stereotypes, does this mean you justify Jewish/Irish jokes as well?

  15. Dave Nadel says

    “But isn’t justifying a motto on the grounds that it was adopted before science proved it wrong the same as saying “the Earth is flat and to hell what anyone else says otherwise”? ”

    Probably. I thought it could also be interpreted as historical and quirky.

    Another reason for keeping Floreat Pica as motto is that I don’t trust Eddie to preside over the development of a new one. Eddie would want something that included embarrassing delusions of grandeur.

  16. Stainless says

    Dave – on that last point you have my wholehearted support!

  17. ramondobb says

    Stainless, I think you’ve come to the wrong conclusion from the Magpie photograph. I think its just that we outsourced the printing of the Aussie Flag, hanging off the Maggie’s tail, to a dodgy Chinese manufacturer and the colours have run in the wash!!

    PS. Any Chinese out there, please don’t take offence to another stereotype – it’s a Foghorn Leghorn joke, son.

  18. Floreat Pica or Side-By-Side, which one gets used more?

    I must say it’s a rare occurrence that Floreat Pica is actually used apart from as a “Yours Sincerely” from Ed Presidente.

    I think the theme song says it all.

    Good old Collingwood forever – eternal success
    We know how to play the game – as if any other game matters
    Side by Side we stick together – thick as thieves
    To uphold the Magpies’ Name COR BLIMEY – not Pica or Cratici but Magpies in good old fashioned English
    Hear the barrackers a shouting – yes we mention the barrackers as part of the team, unlike others
    As all barrackers should – yep all barrackers should be shouting
    Oh the premiership’s a cakewalk – a dance with a huge prize (take the cake) – as all good footy is
    For the Good Old Collingwood

  19. Think I saw a large Pied Butcherbird pass by my window the other day. It might have been a King Cracticus. Wonder if he has a harem?

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