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]
"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.
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.
1580s, "fit to be an example," from French exemplaire, from Late Latin exemplaris "that serves as an example, pattern, or motto," from exemplum "example, pattern, model" (see example). Earlier (early 15c.) as a noun meaning "a model of conduct," from Late Latin exemplarium.
1620s, "inscription on a building, statue, etc.," from Greek epigraphē "an inscription," from epigraphein "to mark the surface, just pierce; write on, inscribe; to register; inscribe one's name, endorse," from epi "on" (see epi-) + graphein "to write" (see -graphy). Sense of "motto; short, pithy sentence at the head of a book or chapter" first recorded in English 1844. Related: Epigraphic; epigraphical.
also posey, 1530s, "short poetical motto engraved on the inner surface of a ring," an alteration of poesy "poetry; a passage of poetry," which is recorded in this sense from early 15c. Meaning "flower; bunch of flowers, bouquet" is recorded by 1570s, from notion of the language of flowers or a custom of sending verses with flowers as gifts. The original thing later was a posy-ring (by 1833).