Loosely translated, what state legislators did yesterday was decide that if they don't like what words mean, they can pass a law to make them mean something else.

State law says the Italian inscription on the Great Seal of Maryland -- "Fatti maschii parole femine" -- is "loosely translated" as "Manly deeds, womanly words."

But rather than live with that politically incorrect, though accurate, translation, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to adopt a new one: "Strong deeds, gentle words."

Delegates pushing the change said they didn't just make this stuff up. They claimed the backing of two Italian scholars and a letter of endorsement from the Italian ambassador to the United States.

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Legislative Women's Caucus, said the caucus wanted to "get gender out" of the motto added in 1622 to the coat of arms of Maryland's founding family, the Calverts. In 1648, the coat of arms was adopted as the state seal. "We feel that it wasn't a fair analysis of men and women, it wasn't fairly descriptive," Ms. Hixson said of the current translation.

Del. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat, liked the change so much that he suggested the new wording be adopted as the official state motto.

Though the idea of making the new translation the state motto was quickly dropped, committee members -- particularly Republicans -- still had problems with tampering with history, not to mention Italian.

"I'd like to amend it to say that this is the politically correct motto of the state," said Del. John J. Bishop, a Baltimore County Republican.

"This has nothing to do with gender," complained Del. James F. Ports, a Baltimore County Republican. "We've already stated its loosely translated. We're just making this up."

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