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How a 'sexist' quote from 16th-century pope became Maryland's state motto


The Italian words "Fatti maschii, parole femine" are displayed on a yellow ribbon on Maryland's state seal. The state has long considered the phrase its motto and has translated it as, "Manly deeds, womanly words."

That translation doesn't sit well with state Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel. He has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would adopt a more gender-neutral translation, "Strong deeds, gentle words," and codify the motto into law.

The current translation "just struck me as sexist," Simonaire said. "I have five daughters, and I'm very concerned that Maryland is holding onto outdated references. . . . I don't believe Maryland is a sexist state."

A spokesman at the Italian Embassy in Washington said the phrase is derived from a comment made by Pope Clement VII in the 16th century, when he was returning to Italy after a trip to France.

The words, embassy spokesman Paola Bozan said, are generally understood to mean "men do things, and women talk about things." Another, wordier, translation: "When you need things done, ask a man, because women only talk and don't arrive to a conclusion."

For reasons that are not entirely clear, the phrase was incorporated into the shield of the Calverts, Maryland's founding family, which in turn became part of the state seal, used on official documents and displayed in state buildings in Annapolis.

Legislation passed in 1959 codified the seal in state law and translated the Italian phrase as follows: "Deeds are manly, words are womanly."

In 1979, there was another law passed, changing the translation to: "Manly deeds, womanly words."

Legislators have tried several times since then to change the translation, but none of those efforts have been adopted into law.

In 2001, the state archivist said the translation should be "strong deeds, gentle words." That change is noted on a plaque that hangs in the Miller Senate Office Building, but - to the consternation of Simonaire - both it and the use of the phrase as the state motto remain unofficial.

Simonaire said he is not trying "to rewrite history" with his bill, but to make the motto "more reflective of what Maryland is."

His effort comes as the General Assembly considers whether to take up an advisory panel's recommendation to change the state's song, "Maryland, My Maryland," a Civil War-era anthem that urges the state to join the Confederacy and describes Union soldiers as "Northern scum."

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) dismissed the panel's call to change the song as "political correctness run amok."

Elaine Rice Bachmann, deputy state archivist and the co-chairman of the panel, said her group was not charged with considering changes to the state motto or seal. But she did not rule out such a request in the future.

"Those may be coming our way," she said.

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