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Mysterious maybe mythologically motivated Monogahela metropolitan motto [Oct. 2nd, 2012|02:39 pm]
One of the (few!) fun parts of applying for medical jobs is getting to see the weird little cities I could be living in next year.

Case in point: Morgantown, West Virginia. Home of 30,293 people and the West Virginia University medical system, which is looking for trainee psychiatrists. Also home to the country's only practical people-mover mass transit system. Not exactly New York City, but if they end up wanting me there are certainly worse places to have to spend the next four years.

But that's not what interests me. Wikipedia's pages on cities often list their town motto, which is always some boring collection of applause light words translated into Latin, like "Freedom, liberty, and also sovereignty"

Except the motto of Morgantown is "Vestigia nulla retrorsum regina monongahelae", or "The Queen of the Monongahela has nothing to return to." A few pages mention it, but none of them explain it or even acknowledge that it needs explanation.

Some quick research reveals a few leads. The Monongahela is a river that runs through the city. There's a city beauty pageant called "Queen of the Monongahela", although it seems just as likely that the pageant was named after some sort of historical or mythical figure as that the motto references a beauty queen.

But overall I'm stumped. It's not just the mysterious "Queen of the Monongahela". If the motto were "The Queen of the Monongahela smiles upon our beautiful city", that would fall into the category of "vague but complimentary" that marks a lot of town mottoes. But "has nothing to return to" sounds self-deprecatory, as if the city has become a sort of wasteland and if she ever came back (where is she, anyway?) she would find that everything she loved about it was gone.

In other words, it is a mystery that has been bothering me, and it is so far totally unprecedented in that the Internet has no answer.

Is anyone reading this blog from West Virginia or somewhere near West Virginia and possessing of an answer to this puzzle?

EDIT: mme_n_b is able to solve the problem both classily and classically.

[User Picture]From: mme_n_b
2012-10-03 03:41 pm (UTC)
Alas, the theory was completely wrong. But completely. The whole thing results from a lack of classical education, which prevented us from recognizing a quote probably familiar to everyone that reads Horace in the original. The motto translated non-verbatim is "Queen of Monongahela (referring, most likely, to the city, just as Venice has been called Queen of the Adriatic) never steps back/retraces [her] steps", i. e. "Our fair city strides resolutely forward [implicitly without fear, see below]."

The quote "never retraces [her] steps taken from Horace's Epistles Book I - "If now perchance the Roman people should ask me, why I do not enjoy the same sentiments with them, as [I do the same] porticoes, nor pursue or fly from whatever they admire or dislike; I will reply, as the cautious fox once answered the sick lion: “Because the foot-marks all looking toward you, and none from you, affright me.”".

The quote source and information that the name and the logo were introduced in 1885 on the occasion of the city's centennial celebration are courtesy of Mr. Michael V. Mackert, Assistant Coordinator of the Morgantown History Museum, who very kindly got back to me first thing this morning. The wild leap to assumption that "Queen" refers to the city itself is mine.
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-10-03 06:58 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks for the research. For some reason I never would have thought of emailing their history museum.

I'm surprised the translation when it appears on the Internet is so completely wrong.
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[User Picture]From: mme_n_b
2012-10-03 07:57 pm (UTC)
People tend to be way more helpful than one expects, especially Americans, museum workers, librarians and musicians. I think of it as one of the world's cool hidden features.

The translation, in hindsight, isn't all that surprising. There is a reason professional translators are not going to be replaced by machines. It requires knowledge of the society, its history and literature, not just of the word mechanics. In fact, I think I'll go drop the link to this on a Latin professor I know, he'll love it.
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[User Picture]From: roryokane
2012-10-03 10:05 pm (UTC)
Great detective work. I’ve created a topic on the Morgantown Wikipedia article’s Talk Page about including that information in the article.
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[User Picture]From: mme_n_b
2012-10-03 10:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you, but seriously - all credit goes to Mr. Mackert.
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