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A motto (derived from the Latin muttum, 'mutter', by way of Italian motto, 'word', 'sentence'; plural: mottoes (always listed first) or also mottos)[1][2][3] is a phrase meant to formally summarize the general motivation or intention of a social group or organization.[3][2] A motto may be in any language, but Latin is the most used in the Western world. The local language is usual in the mottoes of governments. In informal ways, it can be a rule or slogan someone follows, or lives their life by.


In literature, a motto is a sentence, phrase, poem, or word prefixed to an essay, chapter, novel, or the like suggestive of its subject matter. It is a short, suggestive expression of a guiding principle for the written material that follows.[3]

For example, Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes uses mottos at the start of each section.[4]


  1. Motto. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved on 31 January 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Motto. Oxford University Press. Retrieved on 31 January 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913). The ARTFL Project. The University of Chicago. Retrieved on 20 December 2013.
  4. Stevenson, Robert Louis (1907). Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. London: Chatto & Windus. 
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