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Some re-translation is going on in Maryland, where State Senator Bryan Simonaire has persuaded the State’s law makers to revise the translation of the State motto.

Unusually the original motto, which appears on the State Seal, is in Tuscan. The Tuscan dialect is a precursor to modern Italian, thanks to the influence of Florence before and during the early years of the Italian nation. The motto on the Maryland State Seal is the motto of the founders of the Colony of Maryland, the Calvert family – no-one seems to know why their family motto was in Tuscan.

The motto consists of the words “fatti maschii parole femine”. Until Senator Simonaire’s intervention these words had an accurate translation, but rather a literal one, as “manly deeds, womanly words.” The underlying meaning was that men do things, and women talk about things, or even that if you want something to done, a man will do it whereas a woman will only talk about it. This probably counted as a good jest in its day, but doesn’t really reflect modern views in the US.

Senator Simonaire said that the current previous translation “just struck me as sexist.” He said “I have five daughters, and I’m very concerned that Maryland is holding onto outdated references. . . . I don’t believe Maryland is a sexist state.” He proposed legislation that the motto’s translation should be updated to reflect modern ways of thinking, and this was passed. The official new translation has now been agreed, and has become: “Strong deeds, gentle words.”

This is an interesting case where a translation is seen as correct at a point in time, but  has then been updated to meet new circumstances and ways of thinking. The original motto remains unchanged, but the number of Tuscan speakers in Maryland is probably limited, so it may go unnoticed.

It’s also a good example of where a direct word-for-word translation may not be the best way to get the meaning over – using the words “manly” and “womanly” brings sexist overtones that detract from the motto. We often have the debate in this blog about exact translation or translation for meaning. Do you think Senator Simonaire has done a “manly deed” by having this new translation agreed? Or should the original translation be respected, even though times have moved on?

We look forward to hearing your words – womanly or otherwise!