Washington Post Slams Maryland's 'Sexist In Any Language' Motto

Antony Shugaar targeted Maryland's "sexist" state motto in a Sunday opinion piece for The Washington Post, which was took up the bulk of a full page of the Outlook section of the liberal paper's print edition that day (and teased above the fold of the section by trumpeting how "the state has glossed over its motto's sexism"). Shugaar led by favorably spotlighting Rep. Nancy Pelosi's Maryland roots, as he went after the state's "embarrassing" slogan.

The translator also took the state government to task for its apparently "willfully misleading" translation of the motto "Fatti maschii, parole femine," which is the only one that appears in Italian:

According to the state of Maryland, the phrase translates to "strong deeds, gentle words."...The direct translation is hardly gentle: "Manly deeds, womanly words."  I'm a professional literary translator of Italian, but don't just take it from me.

Giuseppe Patota, the director of the Garzanti Italian Dictionary in Milan, says that the phrase "has distinctly sexist connotations, and the translation proposed by the state of Maryland misses its literal meaning." Patota goes on to say that the proverb "belongs to a misogynistic and politically highly incorrect tradition." He lists similar sayings, culminating with "Chi dice donna dice danno," which plays on the similarity of the words "woman" and "damage" and means, roughly, "When you say 'woman,' you're saying bad news." One Italian Web site listing proverbs includes the unofficial Maryland motto, with a wry attribution: "Anonymous Sexist."

Shugaar first noted in his op-ed, "The Maryland motto is sexist in any language," how "Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi's father served as Baltimore's first Italian American mayor from when she was 7 until she was 19." He continued by wondering "if she ever asked him about Maryland's unofficial motto, which appears on the state seal. After all, Maryland is the only state to boast a saying in Italian...and Nancy's grandparents were born in Italy. If she had asked, I imagine Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., who was a five-term congressman for Maryland before serving as mayor, wouldn't have wanted to discourage his daughter from dreaming big."

The translator continued with his "willfully misleading" label of the Maryland state motto and his citation of Patota about the supposedly "sexist" and "misogynistic" connotation it carries. He then gave a brief history of how the phrase became the Old Line State's motto: "The history of the seal and the motto is complex, but like many things in Maryland, it all comes back to the founding family of the Maryland colony — the Calverts — and George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore."

After noting that the Calverts were Catholics, even after "England had turned its back on the pope," Shugaar laughably claimed that "the family motto was probably adopted in Italian because that was the language spoken by most Roman Catholics." This is simply not the case, even during the 17th century period where the recusant family founded the Maryland colony. The official language of the Catholic Church was (and still is) Latin, and most European noblemen knew that language, even after the Protestant Reformation, and not Italian.

Later in the article, the writer did cite a defense of the motto from an expert in Maryland history:


...[F]ormer state archivist Edward Papenfuse is having none of it. After all, he says, when Lord Baltimore adopted the proverb as his family slogan in 1622, he also created a coat of arms that paid tribute not only to his family but also to the family emblems of his wife, Anne Mynne, a helpmeet and an intellectual equal. And Papenfuse points to the fact that while Calvert was traveling, both as a founder of colonies and as a diplomat for the king, Mynne lived in a house where she was likely to have met John Florio, a scholar raised in Tuscany who insisted that words have no gender (true in English, less so in Italian). Papenfuse believes that Calvert, a Catholic living in a Protestant kingdom, was accustomed to shaping words to mean the opposite of their literal translation.

Shugaar concluded by stating that "it's up to the state of Maryland to decide what to do with its motto," but took a parting shot at the state's official song as well, "which calls President Abraham Lincoln a 'despot' and a 'tyrant,' and the Union forces 'Northern scum.'  He added that "traditions can become embarrassing. Sometimes they need to be changed — or tolerated with a smile." The translator's last suggestion should be the reaction that people have to his ideologically-tinged thesis – perhaps, with some mocking laughter as well.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center