Tag Archives: Stella quarta decima fulgeat

…et puer parvulus minabit eos.

(If you have any issues with the Latin above, take it up with Google Translate.) 

At the risk of losing my street cred, I have to admit being edified and inspired by an event at the Statehouse today.

The occasion: The Senate Government Operations Committee taking up a bill to establish Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat as an alternate motto for the state of Vermont.

This proposal has famously been the target of unedifying and uninspiring commentary, mistakenly conflating Latin with Latino, criticizing it as a waste of time, and wrongly complaining that the new motto would supplant “Freedom and Unity.”

Angela Kubicke and the motto bill's sponsor Sen. Joe Benning, with the broad shoulders and flowing mane of Seven Days' Paul "Party in the Back" Heintz in the middle.

Angela Kubicke and the motto bill’s sponsor Sen. Joe Benning, with the broad shoulders and flowing mane of Seven Days’ Paul “Party in the Back” Heintz in the middle.

The hearing was attended by roughly five dozen middle- and high-school students of Latin, along with teachers, parents, and three Classicists from the University of Vermont. The hearing’s central figure was 15-year-old Angela Kubicke, who had the original idea for the Latin motto and, with her teacher and others, came up with the exact wording. The first three words, translated as “The Fourteenth Star,” appeared on the first coin minted in the 1780s by the then-independent Vermont. “Fulgeat,” the verb, completes the sentence “May the fourteenth star shine brightly.” Kubicke and her teacher, Ray Starling, gave a thorough account of the historical rationale for their proposal.

One of the other witnesses almost stole the show. If you were casting the part of a tenured professor of classical languages, you might just see Robert Rodgers as a gift of the gods. Slightly tousled gray hair, well-trimmed gray beard, glasses, precise in speech to the point of pedantry, his testimony was perched delicately on the border between entertaining and aggravating. As committee chair Jeanette White admitted afterward, “I forgot that professors are used to talking in 45-minute increments.” Professor Rodgers went nowhere near that long, but with the chair’s forbearance he blithely ignored the two-minute time limit per speaker. It was a rare opportunity for a Classicist to speak to a lay audience on a subject dear to his heart, and he was (in his own reserved way) happy as a pig in slop.

Still, he was an effective if nerdy (and wordy) witness, praising “Fulgeat” as “a felicitous choice for a verb,” parsing its contextual meanings and citing its use by the Roman poet Virgil.

Three students from Lamoille Union High School also spoke to the committee, defending Latin as a foundation of modern science, architecture, music, and Western languages. At the end, committee member Chris Bray commended Kubicke and her fellow speakers for the “depth of thought” behind the motto.

And then came the vote: FIve in favor, zero opposed. The bill goes on to the full Senate on Friday.

For the many who complained about the bill being a “waste of time,” you should have been there. Everyone — Senators, professors, teachers, and students — were fully engaged in the process and the issue. It took less than an hour all told, and it was a great learning experience for all. I’ve got nothing cynical to say about it in the least.

Ethics, shmethics

Riddle me this, Batman: How is a political blogpost like a roadkill skunk?

The apparent answer: At first their stench makes them unfit for polite company, but after three weeks or so the smell goes away.

See, way; back on January 19, I wrote a piece about a bill before the legislature to establish a Latin motto for Vermont. Over time, the story went viral; it appeared on the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, Reddit, Fark, and Gawker. It was shared on Facebook more than 10,000 times, and I literally got over 100,000 pageviews out of it.

But nobody else in Vermont media picked up on the story.

That is, until now. The Associated Press’ Dave Gram wrote a piece about it. The Burlington Free Press posted it on their paywalled website; here’s a link to the story on a non-paywalled site.

Nice of Dave to finally notice the story. Don’t know why it took three weeks.

Not so nice: he didn’t credit the Vermont Political Observer as the original source. Maybe the story’s blogorrific stench has dissipated, but the smell still permeates the dread name “theVPO.”

Gawker, that irresponsible gossipmonger, credited me; the local media, I guess, chooses not to.

Now I realize that (a) this is a trivial story, a sidebar to our coverage of politics and policy, and (b) nobody outside of the room I’m sitting in cares whether I get fair credit. But I do. And the giving and receiving of credit is always a lively topic whenever journalists gather; my salaried colleagues are quick to complain when they are slighted by another media outlet.

So here’s my complaint. For the vast majority of you who don’t care, my apologies and I promise something more relevant next time. Just needed to get that off my chest.

More on the motto: true to Vermont’s heritage

(Note: See also this follow-up post on the motto’s approval by a Senate committee.)

Of all the stuff I’ve written about Vermont politics and policy on this blog and earlier on Green Mountain Daily, the single-most-read piece I’ve ever posted was last week’s post about the proposed addition of a Latin state motto. So I thought I’d add some historical information for those still skeptical about the idea.

For those just joining us, Sen. Joe Benning has sponsored a bill designating a new Latin motto — not to displace “Freedom and Unity,” but to exist side-by-side. He did so at the behest of Angela Kubicke, a ninth-grade student at The Riverside School in Lyndonville*, who is apparently way smarter than I was in the ninth grade. Or certainly more dedicated and focused.

*Correction: Kubicke was an eighth-grader at Riverside when she first approached Sen. Benning; she is now a first-year student at St. Johnsbury Academy, and is also a member of the Latin Club at the Lyndon Institute. Credit where credit’s due. 

The motto, Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat, is translated as “May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright.” It’s a nod to Vermont’s status as the 14th state to join the Union — hence, the 14th star on the flag. My original post had to do with ignorant Facebook commenters who confused Latin with Latin America — basically telling Joe and Angela to take their motto and go back to Mexico.

There were also plenty of comments accusing the Senator of wasting time on such nonsense — when, in fact, bills like this take up very little of anyone’s time. In the opening weeks of the session, most of the work takes place in committees; and while other committees are debating taxes, budget, education, environment, etc., one single committee will spend probably a few minutes on this issue. The entire Senate does not grind to a halt over stuff like this.

There was also a third class of ignorant comments, saying we should stick with our heritage and not drag in some newfangled foreign motto.

StellaQuartaDecimaBut in fact, Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat is a direct tribute to Vermont’s early status as an independent republic. During that time, it was pretty clear that Vermont would eventually join the United States, and the monicker “14th Star” was commonly used. In 1786, the government authorized the minting of Vermont coins; the phrase Stella Quarta Decima was included on the “tails” side of Vermont’s first coin.

So the motto is not new at all; it’s a reflection of Vermont’s early history. As is the use of Latin.

The next step in the odyssey of Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat will take place at 2 pm on Wednesday, February 11, when Angela Kubicke will testify before the Senate Government Operations Committee.  “I suspect she will make a very good impression,” said Sen. Benning in a comment to my previous posting. “I am also willing to lay odds that the tripartisan membership of that committee will vote unanimously in support of the bill, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that legislators still care about the Classics and Vermont’s heritage.”

What started out as a small civics lesson for a single student may well become a big lesson in history — and open-mindedness — for all of us.

No good deed goes unpunished

(Note: those visiting this page for the first time may also want to read two follow-up posts: one exploring the historical roots of the proposed motto, and one about a state Senate committee’s consideration of the motto.)


You try to do something nice…

Last spring, Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning got a letter from an eighth-grader at The Riverside School in Lyndonville. She was studying Latin, and wanted Senator Joe to introduce a bill to give Vermont a Latin motto. We’ve got “Freedom and Unity,” but no Latin.

As the idea developed, those involved came up with a motto: Stella quarta decima fulgeat. The translation: “May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright,” is a nod to Vermont’s status as the fourteenth state to join the union. Nice. Poetic in both languages. Benning brought the student to Montpelier and introduced her to the Government Operations Committee, which would consider her proposal.

*Also possible endorsement deal with the new 14th Star Brewery in St. Albans?

It was too late in last year’s session to launch the idea, but Benning introduced it this month. Senate Bill 2 would not affect “Freedom and Unity” at all; it would simply establish the Latin motto as a separate thing.

A nice harmless moment, no? A reward for a hardworking, creative student, yes?

Funny thing. Last week, WCAX did a story about Benning’s bill. And the reaction, as Benning told me in an email?

I anticipated suffering the backroom internal joking from my colleagues in the legislature.  What I did not anticipate was the vitriolic verbal assault from those who don’t know the difference between the Classics and illegal immigrants from South America.

Sen. Joe Benning, perhaps on his way back to Mexico. (Photo from his Facebook page.)

Sen. Joe Benning, perhaps on his way back to Mexico. (Photo from his Facebook page.)

That’s right, the WCAX Facebook page was inundated with angry posts from ignorant Vermonters spewing their hatred in barely readable fractured English. (Spelling and punctuation as-is) Warning: Teh stoopid, it burns!

Dorothy Lynn Lepisto: “I thought Vermont was American not Latin? Does any Latin places have American mottos?”

Norman Flanders: “What next Arab motto??”

Kevin P. Hahn: “How about ‘go back south of the boarder'”

Richard Mason: “We are AMERICANS, not latins, why not come up with a Vermont motto that is actually from us”

Judy Lamoureux: “Throw him out of the country tell him to take obama with him!”

Phil Salzano: “My question is, are we Latin, or are we Vermonters? Alright then, English it is…..”

Lori Olds: “I thought this was USA why are they trying to make Americans aliens”

Chris Ferro: “That’s a BIG NO, if you live in the United State YOU need to learn ENGLISH!!”

Julie Kellner: “No, you a USA citizen!.. Learn & understand the language!!!.”

Kurtis Jones: “No cause vt ain’t no Latino area. Leave the motto alone”

Zeb Swierczynski: “ABSOLUTLY NOT!!!! sick and tired of that crap, they have their own countries”

Ken Curtis: “Just when I felt our represenatives could not possibly get any dumber , they come up with this…get real… this is the USA, not some Moslim or Mexican country…stop given in to these people…PRESS 1 for English and forget the rest… worry about the problems you were elected to do”

Ronald Prouty Jr. “No way this is America not Mexico or Latin America. And they nee to learn our language, just like if we go there they want us to speak theirs”

Kristen Wright: “thats un called for this is the usa”

Kelley Dawley: “How do you say idiotic senator in spanish? I’d settle for deport illegals in spanish as a back up motto”

Heather Chase: “Seriously?? Last time I checked..real vermonters were speakin ENGLISH.. NOT LATIN..good god…”

I could go on, but that’s more than enough.

And really, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. For every commenter who didn’t know the difference between Mexico and Rome, there were ten who were apoplectic over the notion that Our Representatives Are Wasting Their Time (as if this bill will take more than a few minutes anywhere), and that Joe Benning is a moron who should be voted out of office and/or evicted from Vermont.

The good Senator is reacting to this with admirable equanimity:

I figure this is a good opportunity for my now ninth grader to learn how to respond to such attacks with fortitude and grace.  I hope to be meeting with her and her parents this weekend to continue the educational experience.

Good on ya, Senator. Illegitimi non carborundum.