As this is the time when we're all coming up with wacky mottos, I thought I'd try my hand at our department's private motto.

Having run a few variants through Google Translate, and coming out with a Latin word salad, I thought I'd try my old Latin dictionary. It still comes out as a poor Anglophone substitution rather than a witty slogan.

"We overpromise, (and) we under-perform"

Overpromise, as in "to promise the earth". To claim that we can and will do more than your "wildest dreams could imagine". That's the first idiomatic sticking point.

Under-perform, as in lacklustre, shoddy or slapdash. I'm sure there's a pretty way of saying that, other than "sub-optimal".

And then how to stick them together in a way that doesn't hurt to look at?

Any ideas?

  • 3
    Welcome to the site, and nice question!
    – Rafael
    Dec 19, 2018 at 12:27
  • @Rafael Happy to be here and thanks for the warm welcome
    – Guppy Face
    Dec 21, 2018 at 9:44

4 Answers 4


My suggestion is nimium promittimus, parum patramus.

nimium and parum are adverbs meaning 'too much'/'excessively' and 'too little'/'insufficiently', respectively.

promittimus means 'we promise,' and patramus means 'we carry through'/'we bring to completion'/'we accomplish.' Both verbs are being used 'absolutely' here, without the direct object that they would typically have. The pairing of these two verbs can be found in, e.g., Cicero, Ad Atticum 1.14.7:

nunc ut ad privata redeam, Τεῦκρις promissa patravit.

So the sentence literally means, 'We promise excessively, (but) we carry through to completion insufficiently.'

  • 1
    There's always a danger of over-elaborating into something uncomfortably pseudo-Latin in cases like this. The short and direct mottoes are always best.
    – Tom Cotton
    Dec 19, 2018 at 22:16
  • I was mulling over nimis rather than nimium to match parum. Couldn't find matching verbs: +1 patro
    – Hugh
    Dec 20, 2018 at 17:27

Here's a ready-made Latin motto. It was widely known and widely used but this is the neatest version (Horace: Ars Poetica, 136–9)

Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus

literally it means "The Alps will be giving birth: A ridiculous mouse pops out!" It is cryptic enough to have a Wikipedia page, "The Mountain in Labour." There's a longer version by Aesop.

  • 3
    That's hilarious! I can see some situations where that will come in handy and I love the idiom, but that's perhaps one layer of subtlety too deep..
    – Guppy Face
    Dec 19, 2018 at 14:14
  • 1
    This allusion to Aesop sounds perfect for this motto! If taking Horace's line in toto is too obscure, what do you think of something like Montes propositi, mures redditi?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Dec 23, 2018 at 22:26

For "overpromise" there's a nice idiomatic expression: marĭa montesque pollĭcēmur. It means literally "we promise the sea and the mountains", pretty close to "promise the earth". It has remained intact in the Italian promettere mari e monti.

There is no single verb to express a sub-optimal performance, but I like ad ultimum non pervĕnīmus - literally, "we don't reach the highest/furthest", i.e. "we don't reach perfection". Plus, I think it looks good with the sea and mountains metaphore.

To sum it up:

Maria montesque pollicemur, ad ultimum non pervenimus.

  • 1
    Perfectly balanced, as all mottos should be.
    – Guppy Face
    Dec 21, 2018 at 9:46

A, rather literal, translation would be:

Multa promittimus, pauca adimplemus

  • Promitto means, among other things, to promise. Promittimuswe promise.
  • Multa is the plural neuter form of multus, -a, -um, many. The use of pl. neut. is an idiomatic way of saying many things.
  • In a similar way, pauca is pl. n. for paucus, -a, -um, few things.
  • Adimpleo means to fulfill (also with other meanings). Adimplemuswe fulfill.

A close quote may be found in the Gospel of St. Matthew:

Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam (NVG Mt. 25:21) you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities (NABRE)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.