Cambridge's Best Mottos


Hello Pembroke Street readers and welcome back both to Cambridge and to another instalment of my wildly successful article series in which I review strange things. For new readers, this is the section of Pembroke Street in which the editors allow an eccentric third year to ramble on for 600 words or so about a particularly niche topic that interests him. Sounds exciting, right? Well, prepare for another deluge of excitement as this time our niche topic is mottos.

Before we start, here’s an interesting aside: Galashiels, which is a town in the Scottish borders, has the wonderful motto of ‘Soor plooms’ (or ‘sour plums’ for those who

need it in plain English). Yes, that’s actually their official motto. If you’re wondering how I acquired such a fact, I read an article about soor plooms – it was a wild summer.

I feel that motto is going to be far better than any we’ll find in Cambridge which will make the rest of this article rather underwhelming. But if you had high expectations going into this, that’s on you.

First up on the list is Fitzwilliam’s motto:

‘Ex antiquis et novissimis optima’.

Now, I’ll do something unusual for Cambridge and assume you don’t speak Latin fluently. This translates to ‘The best of old and new’. I don’t want to be too harsh or to judge an entire college by its architecture, but are we really sure it’s the best of old and new? Really? Also isn’t ‘the best of old and new’ basically just a way of saying ‘the best’? I suppose having ‘the best’ as your motto might seem a tad smug…

5.8 / What’s the motto with you? Nothing, apparently – they’re ‘the best’

While most of the mottos I found were in Latin, Sidney Sussex’s one is in Middle French which is exciting. You may disagree, but when you’ve been trawling through mottos for what seems like years this is a thrilling development.

It translates to ‘God preserve me from calumny’

which is maybe slightly less thrilling, mainly because I didn’t know what ‘calumny’ meant. However, luckily I had every English lecturer’s obsession, the OED, at hand to patiently explain to me that calumny essentially means slander. It doesn’t really make it much more exciting and may make you think that all this translating has been a waste of time – and consequently that writing an article about it has been a greater waste of time. Don’t you worry, I bear that dread every time I do this.

6.2 / Looks like your motto hasn’t preserved you from this calumny

Onto Homerton next, with the motto ‘Respice Finem’ which Wikipedia reliably assures me means ‘Look to the end’. This just seems a bit sad to be honest. I feel it would be unfair to say anything bad about it.

9 / Look you got a good score, Homerton, it’s going to be alright, okay?

Finally we have Wolfson’s motto which is ‘Ring True’ – and no, surprisingly I haven’t needed to translate that. While there’s not much to it, I feel it has a certain beauty. I enjoy its simplicity and unpretentiousness. It refers to the bell in Wolfson’s crest and I just think that’s quite nice. So I’m going to give it a high score. Simple as that.

9.2 / A ringing endorsement

And I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. I know, aww indeed. I couldn’t find a motto for Pembroke so if anyone knows anything about it, I’d be mildly interested to hear, (only mildly, I don’t need pages of history). Also if you think of anything you want me to review, please do let me know – I’m trying to make this interactive, plus after three years my ideas are swiftly drying up. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this and you have a great term ahead. See you around, my dear readers!