“Never give a sword to a man who can't dance.”
October 22, 2010 4:56 AM   Subscribe

What inspirational or instructive inscription should I have engraved on a (new) military officer's sword?

After its presented, this will be used as a ceremonial sword for parades and so on, and hopefully will eventually become a family heirloom, so I'd like something meaningful to accompany the simple name and date of commission. How about a proverb, a quotation or a famous historical inscription? Something in a classical language or perhaps Gaelic (Irish or Scottish) could be appropriate. Google searches have thrown up for example the SG proverb 'Na tarraing mi gun adhbhar, 's na pill mi gun chliù', translated as 'Neither draw me without cause, nor return me without honour', which I like. It doesn't have to be directly sword-related, if it is suitably relevant. Humour might work, but I'm not sure 'this end towards enemy' carries sufficient gravitas!
posted by emtanner to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What branch of service? What country?
posted by bilabial at 5:01 AM on October 22, 2010

Oh. And for funny, I like the idea of 'welcome to the ________' if you suspect this person might ever be providing the 'stinger' at a wedding. (the bride and groom walk under a sword arch, one of the officers taps the (usually) wife on the behind.)

That might not be universally funny, though it has a nice double meaning.
posted by bilabial at 5:09 AM on October 22, 2010

I vote for "Obsolete, but occasionally effective".

My second choice would be "Someday, I'll be a plowshare." Either that or "www.cheapsworddeals.com"

Third would be "Heart must be braver, mood the stouter, courage the bolder as our strength grows less." That's my fave quote from The Battle of Maldon.
posted by FauxScot at 5:19 AM on October 22, 2010

"Our patience will achieve more than our force" - Edmund Burke
posted by ladybird at 5:22 AM on October 22, 2010

Mightier than the pen (unless the pen is very long and sharp)

- apologies to T. Pratchett
posted by Fiery Jack at 5:26 AM on October 22, 2010

"Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less." - Robert E Lee.
posted by COD at 5:30 AM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, missed that off. Royal Marines, so in the UK.
posted by emtanner at 5:39 AM on October 22, 2010

Perhaps the Royal Marine's motto - 'By Sea, By Land'? On their crest it's in Latin:

"Per Mare, Per Terram"

Also, the joke answers aren't really appropriate for a commissioning sword, peanut gallery, this is probably going to be used for years in actual ceremonial duties.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:47 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Semper paratus" ....Latin for 'Always prepared"
posted by jquinby at 5:58 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd ask before you do this if you haven't already. Like many branches of the military, there are protocols and something perceived to be tacky does nobody any favours.

The obvious thing to engrave would be his initials and the date of his passing out parade.

Another option would be would be "Per Mare Per Terram" - the regimental motto. This might be considered tacky, however.

A longer quote might be the one from which the Massachusetts state motto is derived: "Manus haec inimica tyrannis ense petit placidam sub libertate quietam" - "this hand, hostile to tyrants, seeks with the sword a quiet peace under liberty." Written by an Englishman, incidentally.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:59 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Aonaibh ri chéile."

It means "Unite."
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:04 AM on October 22, 2010

When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow,
We Gave Our Today.
posted by sanka at 6:11 AM on October 22, 2010

Semper paratus is the motto of the US Coast Guard, which may take it off the table.
posted by bilabial at 6:16 AM on October 22, 2010

Si vis pacem, para bellum. Latin: If you wish peace, prepare for war.

Or, if the recipient is a Pratchett fan,

Si vis bellum, para bellum.
posted by solotoro at 6:17 AM on October 22, 2010

Not really joking, don't know how it would be viewed and might be inappropriate:

Any of the various inscriptions ascribed to the famous mythological/fictional/semihistorical swords. IE, one of the things made up later to be the inscriptions on Narsil / Anduril. Or, the (semi?)fictional Cortana has the inscription "My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal," presumably either in Norse runes or French.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 AM on October 22, 2010

(but yes, for God's sake ask the new officer or some of his instructors at the training school what would be appropriate)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:38 AM on October 22, 2010

Take me. Cast me away. (On either side of Excalibur, according to Tennyson.)
posted by permafrost at 6:55 AM on October 22, 2010

Fiat justitia ruat caelum or the more straight-forward Fiat justitia

"May justice be done though the heavens fall."

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:17 AM on October 22, 2010

bilabial: "Semper paratus is the motto of the US Coast Guard, which may take it off the table."

...the USCG among others.
posted by jquinby at 7:51 AM on October 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far.

To clarify, these swords are be engraved with name, date of commission, and the Royal Marines crest including the motto 'Per Mare, Per Terram'. As MuffinMan and Happy Dave have pointed out, it is a ceremonial sword so any further inscription must be brief and shouldn't be tacky - epigraph rather than epigram, so out-and-out funnies are inappropriate.

I'd like to avoid the mythological/fantasy end of the spectrum, and we're not going for a name.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by emtanner at 7:56 AM on October 22, 2010

Mod note: Several jokey answers removed, enough with the lulz folks.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:37 AM on October 22, 2010

Dum Vivimus Vivimus
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:54 AM on October 22, 2010

I always always thought that 'Nemo me impune lacessit' was a fairly badass sentiment.
posted by jquinby at 9:00 AM on October 22, 2010

Short, pithy, maybe appropriate:

Whatever the right French phrasing for "her right" would be, as in "dieu et mon droit."

Ultima ratio regum.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:07 AM on October 22, 2010

Humor: any number of things translated into officious Latin.

IE, take the classic film They Live in which Rowdy Roddy Piper proclaims that "I am here to kick ass and chew bubble gum... and I'm all out of bubble gum." Google translate suggests "Totus ex gummi bulla" or "bulla gummi desunt" for "...and I'm all outta bubble gum," but surely there's a Latin way to express that that's both hoitier and toitier.

Or take Pulp Fiction, with Samuel L's fake version of Ezekiel 25... There's got to be a good, short way to express "And I will strike down upon those with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers" or "And you will know that my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee" in church-Latin.

I don't particularly mean those in particular, but there are LOTS of things from popular culture one could translate into Latin.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:22 AM on October 22, 2010

Seneca said it best: Vivere militare est (to live is to be a soldier).
posted by vorfeed at 11:53 AM on October 22, 2010

"Be careful - you could have someone's eye out with this!'

But in Latin.
posted by Grangousier at 12:18 PM on October 22, 2010

"Thou shalt not kill"
posted by Reverend John at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2010

"'Nemo me impune lacessit'"

You're going to struggle to come up with an appropriate Latin motto that doesn't already belong to a British army regiment (as above), and I suspect that to have a reference to an army regiment on a Royal Marine's sword is going to be a bit of a no no.

Tennyson is a good source. Both from "Ulysses":-

"One equal temper of heroic hearts"
"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"
posted by genesta at 2:29 PM on October 22, 2010

Caedite eos.
posted by Bruce H. at 12:23 AM on October 23, 2010

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