Seth Brown | The Pun Also Rises: Whatsa motto with you?

If you don't believe me, think of a good motto. Just do it, think different. Once you've thought of one, I bet you can name the company associated with it. Good mottos stick in your mind and represent the company they're supposed to.

One motto in the news in the past year was Google's motto of "Don't Be Evil". I heard they decided to drop the motto, which came as a bit of a surprise to me since I felt like it was already a pretty low bar for a motto. I can only imagine how the conversations went:

"So, remember, our first motto was: 'Using technology to improve the world and advance humanity.'"

"Great motto, we totally lived up to it when we first introduced such a powerful and accessible search engine to bring the internet to the masses!"

"Oh, absolutely. But then we started focusing on aggregating news and offering a maps service, so we felt like something less lofty was in order. We changed it to: 'Making life slightly better for you!'"

"Sensible motto, and we kept that for a few years until we started competing with other products already on the market and then pushing them out of the market, and our motto became: 'Not making your life any worse than it was before.'"

"Which was reasonable until we started focusing on ads, which we served up mixed in with search results, and started having Google ads follow you around from site to site, so we had to scale back to: 'Don't Be Evil.'"

"Solid motto, totally worked until a few years ago when we started going along with Chinese censorship and really gathering tons of personal data that we could turn into revenue, so I'm pretty happy with our current motto: 'Not actively contributing to the murder of innocent people.'"

"Fantastic motto, and should last us at least a few years until we finish selling the personal data and face recognition technology to oppressive regimes. Besides, Amazon's doing it too, so we'll be fine."

And it's not limited to companies. States also have mottos. This column appears primarily in Massachusetts and Vermont, so it's worth taking a minute to look at the mottos of the two states.

Vermont's official state motto is "Freedom and Unity." While achieving both of these things at once can be very tricky, -- since a large group of free people can rarely agree on pizza toppings, let alone a unified political will -- it is still a great motto. It is concise, easy to understand, and presents a clear picture of values held by the state of Vermont. I would be proud to live in a state with such an excellent motto.

But I live in Massachusetts. Our official state motto is "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem," which translates as "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." That's a little more obscure than Freedom and Unity, since it relies on a lot of conditionals. We seek peace IF it's by the sword ONLY under liberty PROVIDED it is after 2 p.m. AND we get a free donut.

I feel like we could do better. Massachusetts was the first state that didn't bar same-sex couples from getting married. It was the first state not to allow bump stocks after the Las Vegas shooting. It was the first state not to prevent its citizens from access to healthcare regardless of changing federal regulations. Given all the bad things Massachusetts isn't doing, maybe our new state motto should be "Don't Be Evil."

Nobody else is using it.

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor writer, author of the forthcoming "The Little Book of Mahjong," and tries to make life slightly better. His website is


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