November 23, 2007

"The wind of freedom blows." "No, that slogan blows."

Think you've got a good college slogan? Think again.

Consider Cornell's motto, "rated No. 1 by Motto" (there's a Motto magazine for some reason):
It's a statement made by the university's founder, Ezra Cornell: "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." Still, that mouthful leaves Scott White, who runs the Web site Brand Identity Guru, nonplussed. "Wow. Okay. I don't know what to say to that," he says. "I think that's just awful."

The University of California has "Fiat Lux" — in other words, "Let There Be Light." A tad grandiose. On the "light" theme, but not mentioned in the article is the University of Wisconsin's motto: "Numen Lumen." What does it mean? It rhymes. It's fun to say. It sounds like a guy's name. (Newman Louman.) But what does it mean? I've never known — through all these 20+ years of reading it. And apparently, no one else does either!


Modern Otter said...

Reading from the linked account:
I take "light" to symbolize knowledge and divinity to suggest, at very least, goodness.

So, perhaps UW's motto just a more elegant expression of what Emil Faber came up with for his eponymous college: "Knowledge is Good."

Chris said...

From the Q & A of the Alumni Association:

"Tracy Woolever '81 asks Abe, "What does 'Numen Lumen' mean? What is the history behind it?"

Answer: The phrase "Numen Lumen," developed as part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's seal and motto, is Latin and can be translated to mean, "God, our light." But, according to a University Communications News Library article, the UW's first chancellor, John Lathrop, who assisted in the creation of the motto, interpreted it to mean, "The divine within the universe, however manifested, is my light."

This credo was the UW's first seal and was chosen to reflect the religious beliefs and values of Wisconsin citizens. And apparently, the UW was not the only university to use such strong religious words and objects in its motto — at the time, many other universities used similar references. Although "Numen Lumen" is still an important seal at the university, it is not as heavily used in representations of UW-Madison today."

Robert Holmgren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"can be translated to mean"

It can also be translated to mean: We thought it sounded cool and no one would ask what it meant.

Ron said...

What if the actor who played Newman (in Seinfield) stood by the motto somewhere at the UW campus with a light bulb in his mouth like Uncle Fester? C'mon, Althouse, you could sell t-shirts of that!

tjl said...

What could be more effective than the unadorned simplicity of "Veritas," Harvard's motto? Whether "truth" is actually the hallmark of the modern academy is another question.

From Inwood said...

Just about to post that it sounds like Seinfeld in fractured latin telling his annoying neighbor to put on the lights but I see that ron has beaten me to the punch!

From Inwood said...

It's Al Gore’s new motto meaning that it's divine to realize that light output is measured in lumens, not watts &, QED, to buy fluorescent light bulbs rather than incandescent ones

Trooper York said...

Then of course there is the team cheer of San Diego State:

Blow me
Suck This
Let the Suckfest continue,
We are the lucky dudes
Of San Diego State
Morons in every venue

Brad V said...

Tulane: "Non Sibi Sed Suis"

"Not for one's self, but for one's own [people]."

It strikes me as a tad too collectivist, although it lines up well with all the self-injuring mother pelican imagery down here implying communal selflessness.

Ron said...

I went to a Harvard function where they were hitting alumni who made their millions during the Hoover Adminstration, leaned over to my then in Law School friend and said, "Seems like the school motto should not be 'Veritas' but 'Vericose.'"

Anonymous said...

Please note that, thanks to the original underwater basketweaving majors at Uncle Charlie's $ummer Camp, the UC system's grandiose "Fiat Lux" motto often reads "Fiat Slug" upon the hills and within the fringe of the redwood forest overlooking Monterey Bay.

Kirk Parker said...


I thought Harvard changed their motto to "Dubitas" some while back.

PCachu said...

I thought Numen Lumen was one of those Interweb meme thingies.

Paco Wové said...


Vox clamantis in deserto

That is, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness."

Apparently frequently shortened to "Vox clam".

Anonymous said...

Today, it means the voice of the disenfranchised alumni crying in the wilderness, paco ;-)

Jay said...

How about this as the source of Wisconsin's motto:

Astra castra, lumen numen

Meaning "the stars are my camp, my light is the divinity"

More here

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Och Tamale :-)

warren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
warren said...

(I suppose I should leave this deleted, but hey, no one said we were supposed to make sense all the time..)

Lumen, Lumen bo Bumen Bonana fanna fo Fumen
Fee fy mo Mumen, Lumen!

Numen, Numen bo Bumen Bonana fanna fo Fumen
Fee fy mo...OK, to hell with it, even this is getting repetitious.

(Maybe "Numen Lumen" translates to "Thank God I left the lights on, otherwise I'd be tripping over the cat on the way into the apartment."

Anonymous said...

IU's is Lux et Veritas (light and truth).

Fred said...

Ezra Cornell's words appropriately capture the University's mission statement. That Cornell motto is plastered all over the University. It's a really big deal there.

Ralph L said...

My (Davidson) college's motto is Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas
"Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen," referring to the 1775 Mecklenburg County Declaration of Independence, which no one outside NC has ever heard of. The whole diploma is in Latin, very pretentious for a dinky southern liberal arts school.

Jim said...

I like this motto:

"Knowledge is Good."

Emil Faber