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Humor: Our motto's better than your motto

"Not so fast" ("Alki," more or less) has a nice ring to it, fitting for our dispassionate state and these hard times. Other states' sayings are "not so swift."
Alki Beach: Hold up

Alki Beach: Hold up Wikipedia

I seldom boast about Washington state, but we do have the best motto. Our state motto is “Alki,” from Chinook jargon meaning, roughly, “Hold on,” or “Not so fast.”

“Alki” may also be translated as “by and by.” During the Eisenhower years, a group of legislative prudes, all of whom had served as hall monitors in junior high school, attempted to introduce the odious mistranslation, “hope for the future.” Speakers of Chinook jargon quickly exposed this fraud with the withering comment, “Man kloshe kopa yaka lepush pe klale kopa yaka tumtum,” which is loosely translated as “white man speaks with forked tongue.”

“Not so fast” is an appropriate motto for a skeptical, dispassionate, and detached state. “Not so fast” is a far better response to almost any phenomenon than other state mottos. Consider how well it works in response to a typical headline, “Governor to Call Special Legislative Session.” How much better it is, for instance, than:

  • Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable — North Dakota
  • By the Sword We Seek Peace, but Peace Only Under Liberty — Massachusetts
  • Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain — Iowa
  • With God All Things Are Possible — Ohio

Most state mottos sound like slogans of failed student council candidates. The South is still fighting the Civil War:

  • We Defend Our Rights — Alabama
  • By Valor and Arms — Mississippi
  • Thus Always To Tyrants — Virginia

Many mottos appear to have been chosen off flip charts at a Vision and Values Workshop facilitated by a highly compensated consultant:

  • Hope — Rhode Island
  • Forward — Wisconsin
  • Equal Rights — Wyoming
  • Industry — Utah
  • Ever Upward — New York

Some celebrate the irony that prison inmates stamp their state’s slogan on license plates:

  • Liberty and Independence — Delaware
  • Live Free or Die — New Hampshire
  • Liberty and Prosperity — New Jersey

The Midwest boasts of its banality:

  • Indiana: The Crossroads of America
  • Kansas: To The Stars Through Difficulties
  • Michigan: If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look Around You.

A few appear to relish a local joke that the rest of us don’t get:

  • Idaho: Let It Be Perpetual
  • Puerto Rico: John Is His Name

I worry that other states may compete with Washington’s “Not so fast” by adopting more contemporary mottos:

  • Alabama: Whoa!
  • California: Like, Whatever
  • New York: Up Yours
  • Georgia: As If
  • Oregon: I Don’t Think So
  • South Carolina: Duh!
  • Idaho: Drive, Drink, and Text

Steve Clifford writes humor for Crosscut. He is the author of the recently published political satire, Fools and Knaves. In his unhumorous life, he was CEO of King Broadcasting and once played a role in saving New York City from bankruptcy.

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Posted Mon, Oct 12, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

I didn't know about Puerto Rico! Apparently it's the oldest of the mottos listed here, having been granted by the Spanish nearly 500 years ago. "John" is John the Baptist, as in San Juan.

Posted Mon, Oct 12, 11:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for explaining The Seattle Way in a lot fewer words than KK


Posted Fri, Nov 6, 7:34 a.m. Inappropriate

How about: New Jersey -- You Got a Problem With That?

and Calvin Trillin once proposed this one for Kansas: A Long Way Across.


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