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What’s in a Motto?

Have you noticed our motto: sapientia in humilitate (wisdom in humility)?  Where has it come from and what is its relevance for the British School of Monaco?  By definition a motto’s a brief phrase « used to express a principle, a goal, or an idea” or a statement “adopted as a guide to one’s conduct.” Complicated ideas can get lost in space; simple mottos can help one remember what’s really important in an instant. This is why nations, religious orders, sports teams and nearly every major organisation all have mottos.

Mottos originated with heraldry, starting in the ancient world but really coming to fruition in the Middle Ages. In this time period, noble families were given a coat of arms which would include various colours, symbols, animals, weapons, etc., to represent their family. Somewhere on the coat of arms there would be a motto, often in Latin or the ancestral language of the family. This motto would express the particular priorities and history of the family. For over seven hundred years the royal house of Grimaldi and Monaco have had the enduring motto, Deo Juvante, “with the help of God”. Rooted in history, it is evident today on the Principality’s coat of arms and its coinage. It embodies the character and enduring qualities of Monaco and its people.

Mottos are widespread, some like Monaco’s, long established, others far more recent creations. So, even though term has not yet begun, here’s a test: can you recognise these ten mottos and to whom they belong?

  1. ars gratia artis
  2. Just do it.
  3. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
  4. It’s a Mind Game.
  5. Impossible is Nothing.
  6. Because You’re Worth It.
  7. Més que un Club.
  8. audere et facere.
  9. Vorsprung Durch Technik.
  10. Who dares wins.

How did you do? Answers, should you need them are at the bottom.

Our school motto, sapientia in humilitate, “wisdom in humility” is drawn from the poem, “East Coker”, the second of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”, where he writes:

                “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility. Humility is endless.”

Our goal is for our students to strive to achieve their very best in all aspects of their lives and learning but to do so in a spirit of humility. Whilst we will encourage them to reach for the stars we want them firmly rooted on the ground. Through an approach that focuses on depth and breadth in their learning but also on their personal, physical and psychological development, we aim to to provide not only knowledge but understanding, and through that understanding, the beginning of wisdom. We want to create individuals who will seek to be life-long learners, secure in themselves, with an openness and healthy sense of the world beyond them. Embodying wisdom in humility provides a great foundation on which to live and view life.

Ever-deeper learning implies that there is always more to learn, and there are always other perspectives to consider. Sometimes two contradictory things can be ‘true’ at the same time. True wisdom involves an openness to being proved wrong and the knowledge that learning can come from anyone at any time – sometimes from the most unexpected people and experiences. In boxing there is a phrase, ‘it’s the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you out’ – in ensuring the wisdom of our students is tempered by humility, we seek to ensure that they always expect the unexpected and are best prepared to navigate confidently within a complicated, ever-changing and sometimes baffling world.


  1. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
  2. The French Republic.
  3. Tag Heuer.
  4. L’Oreal.
  5. C. Barcelona.
  6. Tottenham Hotspur F.C.
  7. The S.A.S.