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Latin Mottos of the United States Coast Guard and Academy: Translation and Analysis

written by: John Garger • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 9/13/2013

Like many military units, the United States Coast Guard adopted Latin phrases to serve as its mottos. Read this document to learn what these mottos mean when translated from Latin to English.

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    Translating the Mottos of the US Coast Guard and Academy Many militaries, universities, and large commercial institutions adopt Latin phrases to serve as a motto. These mottos are testament to the lasting impact the Latin language has had on Europe and other parts of the world.

    The United States Coast Guard adopted two Latin phrases, one for its overall motto and one specifically for the United States Coast Guard Academy. These two mottos convey the sentiment of the existence of these institutions and provide an opportunity to explore Latin grammar in a more practical way than translating ancient texts. Read on for a translation of the two Latin mottos of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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    A Translation and Analysis of “Semper Paratus," Motto of the U.S. Coast Guard

    Semper Paratus is the simple Latin motto of the Coast Guard suitable for students of Latin early in their program of study. “Semper" is a Latin word also used in the “Semper Fidelis" motto of the U.S. Marine Corp. “Semper" is an indeclinable adverb commonly taught to students Latin to mean “always." However, it is acceptable to take some license when translating this word into English. “Enduring" or “eternal" are acceptable translation of this word.

    Paratus is the nominative singular form of the word meaning “prepared." Paratus is the participial form of the verb “paro" meaning to “set," “prepare," or “provide." Taken together, “Semper Paratus" can be appropriately translated into English as “Always Prepared." However, the Coast Guard’s preferred translation “Always Ready" is more than acceptable as well.

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    Translating “Scientiae Cedit Mare," Latin Motto of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

    The Coast Guard Academy adopted a Latin motto separate from the Coast Guard itself. “Scientiae" is a form of the Latin word “scientia" meaning “knowledge," “acquaintance," or “skill." As a first declension noun, scientiae’s –ae ending indicates that the word may be in the genitive singular, dative singular, or nominative plural case. More information is needed to make this determination.

    Cedit is the third-person singular present tense active indicative form of the word cedo, a Latin word meaning to “go," or “proceed." We know now that “scientiae is not in the nominative plural because the verb “cedit" is singular. Still more information is needed to know of “scientiae" is either genitive or dative singular case.

    Mare is the nominative singular form of a word meaning “sea." It is related to the English word “marine." As a nominative singular word, we now know that “sea" is the subject of the verb “cedit." So far we have a partial translation of the motto as “The Sea Yields."

    Seeing the partial translation above, it makes sense that what should follow is an indirect object to indicate to what or whom the sea yields. “Cedo" has a special relationship with the word “scientiae." By nature of its meaning, “cedo" is often followed by an indirect object in the dative case. We now know that “scientiae" is in the dative singular rather than the genitive singular case.

    Take all together, the motto “Scientiae Cedit Mare" can be appropriately translated into English as “The Sea Yields to Knowledge." Students of Latin may have noticed the strange word order of this motto. English normally follows the subject-verb-direct object-indirect object word order paradigm. Latin normally follows a subject-indirect object-direct object-verb paradigm. This is because the Romans saw the verb as the most important word in a sentence, a kind of punch line.

    By rearranging the words in its motto, the Coast Guard Academy is likely placing emphasis on the word “mare," perhaps as a sign of respect for the power and majesty of the sea. Consequently, ignoring proper English word order, the motto is more appropriately translated as “To Knowledge Yields the Sea." Notice the slightly different connotation given the motto when it is literally translated into English from its original Latin.

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    Conclusion

    The U.S. Coast Guard has adopted a simple “Always Ready" motto but the Coast Guard Academy has adopted a more complicated and more interesting motto from a grammatical standpoint. “Scientiae Cedit Mare" is a good illustration of a word that is often followed by a specific grammatical construction. The pairing of “cedo" with the dative case is not unlike the pairing of the Latin word “possum" with the infinitive form of a verb, another pairing familiar to students of Latin. Both phrases are an excellent opportunity to explore Latin in a different and fun way divergent from rote learning so common in Latin study programs.

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