1580s, "word or phrase on an emblem explaining or emphasizing its symbolic significance; phrase or short sentence inscribed on something used to indicate the tenor of that to which it is attached," from Italian motto "a saying, legend attached to a heraldic design," from Late Latin muttum "a grunt; a word," from Latin muttire "to mutter, mumble, murmur" (see mutter). Meaning "proverbial pithy maxim adopted by someone as a rule of conduct" is from 1796. Motto-kiss "candy wrapped in fancy paper having a motto or scrap of poetry enclosed with it" is from 1858.
"a brief and forcible or witty saying," 1813; earlier "a motto" (1580s, a sense now obsolete), from French mot (12c.) "remark, short speech," literally "word," cognate of Italian motto, from Medieval Latin muttum "a word," from Latin mutum "a grunt, a murmur" (see mutter). Also compare bon mot. Mot juste (1912) is French, literally "exact word," the precisely appropriate expression in some situation.
The mot juste is an expression which readers would like to buy of writers who use it, as one buys one's neighbour's bantam cock for the sake of hearing its voice no more. [Fowler]
The motto is often translated as "He (God) is favorable to our undertakings," but this is not the only possible translation. Thomson wrote: "The pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: The Eye over it & Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause." The original design (by William Barton) showed the pyramid and the motto Deo Favente Perennis "God favoring through the years."
The Latin elements are the perfective of annuere "indicate approval, agree to, grant," literally "nod to (as a sign)" (from assimilated form of ad "to;" see ad-, + nuere "to nod;" see numinous) + perfect passive of coeptus, past participle of coepere "to begin, commence."
French, "shame on him who thinks evil of it;" proverbial expression recorded from c. 1300, used as motto of the Order of the Garter.
"choral composition on a sacred text, intended to be sung in a Church service," late 14c., from Old French motet (13c.), diminutive of mot "word" (see mot), or from Medieval Latin motetum, diminutive of motto.
motto of the United States, being one nation formed by uniting several states, 1782, Latin, from e "out of" (see ex-); ablative plural of plus "more" (see plus (n.)); neuter of unus "one" (from PIE root *oi-no- "one, unique"). Not found in classical Latin, though a variant of the phrase appears in Virgil (color est e pluribus unum); the full phrase was the motto of the popular Gentleman's Magazine from 1731 into the 1750s.
French, "God and my right," the watchword of Richard I at the Battle of Gisors (1195), adopted as the motto on the royal arms of England. The "right" was Edward's claim to the crown of France upon the death of his uncle, Charles the Fair, king of France, without male issue.