Topical Guide 370
Watchwords, Mottoes, Words of Wisdom, Words to Live by, Words to the Wise
“I certainly never knew who he was or ever wanted to know. If I did know, I wouldn’t tell you, Lorna. You know that. Discretion is the foundation of business. I have always made that my watchword. One of my watchwords.”
Luther in Herb ’n’ Lorna, Chapter 16
“I would never drive a dirty cart or sleigh,” said Luther, in the way that bachelor uncles make pronouncements about the principles that underlie the life they make for themselves. Bachelor uncles tend to accumulate such words to live by and, as time goes by, tend increasingly to live by them. I suppose that this happens to all of us, but there is something about bachelor uncles, perhaps the fear that if they fall there will be no one to catch them, that makes them behave like umpires over their own behavior, interpreters of an ever-lengthening rule book, like the Hubers’ rule book for croquet.
Herb ’n’ Lorna, Chapter 2
“That was my father’s motto,” [Mr. Summers] said. “He used to say it when he came to the breakfast table in the morning. He’d pound himself on the chest or pound me on the shoulder or squeeze my mother—she was quite a plump armful, my mother—and he’d say, ‘Every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better.’”
“Maybe we should use it as the Tars motto,” I said. “Whatdoyou think?”
“I thought the motto was ‘Onward, ever onward.’”
“Oh, sure. But I can just rewrite that part and then retype it all and it will look just as if that was always—”
“No, Peter,” said Mr. Summers. “You know what the poet says, don’t you?”
“Well—” I said, unsure which of the poet’s sayings Mr. Summers might have in mind. “The poet” was a device my father sometimes used, so I recognized it at once. “The poet” might not be a poet at all. My father’s saying, “You know what the poet says, don’t you?” was a way of introducing something he didn’t want to be quoted as having said, like “Don’t fart into a tailwind,” or something the author of which he didn’t know.
“‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on,’” Mr. Summers said. “‘Nor all your piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line.’ That’s what the poet says.”
Little Follies, “The Young Tars”
Originally, a watchword was “a word or phrase used as a sign of recognition among members of the same society, class, or group” [according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary]. In time, it came to mean “a word or motto that embodies a principle or guide to action of an individual or group” and then “a guiding principle.”
Carry on through thick and thin
If you feel you’re in the right
Does the fighting spirit win?
Quite, quite, quite, quite, quite
Stiff upper lip, stout fella
When you’re in the stew
Sober or blotto, this is your motto
Keep muddling through.
I’ve posted this before, but I can’t resist:
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