ANNAPOLIS -- With an historical flourish, Del. Timothy F. Maloney tried yesterday to render moot the long-standing debate over the state's motto.
The Prince George's County Democrat was testifying on the latest attempt to erase the words "Fatti maschii parole femine" from the Great Seal of Maryland -- a bill introduced by Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat. The bill would simply eliminate those words from the description of the seal in state law.
According to that law, the Italian phrase is "loosely translated as 'Manly deeds, womanly words,' " giving the state a motto that has offended many down through the years, from suffragettes to feminists, the politically correct to the personally sensitive.
Despite many attempts, the words have remained stubbornly attached to the seal. But Mr. Maloney claims that a phrase on the state seal does not a state motto make. "In Maryland, we have a state secret," he told the House Ways and Means Committee. "And the secret is that Maryland does not have an official state motto. In fact, we've never had one in our 359 years."
He cited a never-publicized 1988 opinion from the attorney general's office stating that, though the state officially adopted the original 1648 seal of the Calvert family, which included the Italian phrase, as Maryland's seal, it never made that phrase the state's motto.
"This is not Maryland's motto, and, despite popular notions to the contrary, it never has been the state motto," Mr. Maloney said.
Mr. Maloney said that one way out of the dilemma would be to adopt a non-sexist translation of the Calvert motto -- he suggested "Deeds are of more avail than words" -- that would capture its 17th century meaning, and then adopt it as the state motto.
But Del. Anne Healey, a Prince George's Democrat, said those who understand Italian will still read the phrase in ways that might offend. "I heard one possible translation as 'Men act, women talk,'" she said.
"Who's arguing?" quipped Michael J. Sprague, a Charles County Democrat, drawing a few hisses from the audience.
In any case, Mr. Maloney said that since "Fatti maschii parole femine" belongs to the Calvert family, and not to Maryland, the state should not take it off the seal.
"If no consensus can be reached on the translation, then Maryland should respect the integrity of its 345-year-old seal and leave the linguistic debate to others, instead of offering a 'loose' legislative interpretation," he said.