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Excelsior! The State Motto of New York

by Cassie Tweten on 06/11/08 at 4:40 am

Facts about New York State’s motto.

Comic book fans may recognize the word “Excelsior!” as the famous valediction of Spider-man creator and Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee. The inspirational exclamation is more than just a tagline recognizable to comic lovers; it’s also the motto of Lee’s (and Spider-man’s) home state, New York.

But, what does it mean?

Excelsior is Latin meaning “ever upward.” According to www.etymonline.com the state took the motto in 1778. It can also be translated simply as “higher,” the comparative form of excelsus, meaning “high.”

Perhaps the easiest way to remember the meaning of New York’s motto is to look at the root-word “excel.”

The official New York State tourism website, www.ILoveNY.com, states, “New York declared its independence on July 9, 1776, becoming one of the original 13 states of the Federal Union. The next year, on April 20, 1777, New York’s first constitution was adopted.”

I thought it was, “The Empire State”

Some may mistake the state nickname, “The Empire State,” for the state motto. The nickname is derived from a quotation by George Washington, who is said to have called New York a “seat of empire” during a tour of the state in 1784.

The website also explains that the coat of arms, which appears on the New York State flag, was adopted in 1778. The coat of arms features the motto in capital letters on a white banner.

Where have I heard that before?

The term Excelsior is also known for its role as the title of a well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem, which begins, “The shades of night were falling fast,/ As through an Alpine village passed,/ A youth, who bore, “mid snow and ice,/ A banner with the strange device,/ Excelsior!,” is revered for its inspirational value.

The word is also occasionally used in business and academia, perhaps more commonly in New York, to signify greatness. The Brooklyn College newspaper, New York State”s online library catalogue, Excelsior College in Albany and the upscale Excelsior Hotel in Manhattan are examples of this.

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