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What Is the State Motto of New York?

Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim

New York's state motto is “Excelsior,” which in Latin literally translates to “ever upward.” The state motto of New York was adopted in 1778 and is featured on both the state’s seal and flag. An interpretation of the word Excelsior in connection with its status as the New York state symbol is that it represents the zeal of New York's citizens to strive or reach for higher goals through hard work and persistence.

New York’s state seal bears a depiction of the state’s coat of arms, which was officially adopted in 1778. The seal is shaped like a circle with an azure background and a smaller circle within that bears the image of two women who represent liberty and justice. Underneath their feet is a curled banner with the inscription of the New York state motto: “Excelsior.” Ladies Liberty and Justice are supporting a shield with a world globe, which is in turn topped by an eagle. Another interesting feature is that the left foot of Liberty is perched on a crown in order to represent freedom from Great Britain. On the other side of the shield, Justice is blindfolded, while holding a scale in her left hand and a sword in her right to represent fairness and impartiality.

"Excelsior"--meaning "ever upward"--is New York's state motto.
"Excelsior"--meaning "ever upward"--is New York's state motto.

The state motto of New York is also featured on the state’s flag. The flag was officially adopted in 1901, much later than the state seal and coat of arms. Apart from the state motto of New York, other unofficial nicknames for the state include “The Excelsior State” and “The Empire State,” which is the inspiration for the name of the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world between 1931 and 1972; the title then belonged to the World Trade Center until it was destroyed by the bombings of September 11, 2001.

Other New York official state symbols include the state insect, which is the nine-spotted ladybug, the state fish, which is the brook trout, and the state shell, which is the bay scallop. The state bird of New York is the eastern bluebird, which is a songbird, while the state flower of New York is the rose. The state fruit of New York is the apple, the state gem is the garnet, and the official state fossil is the sea scorpion.

Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - It is also because New York is still one of the places where immigrants arrive in the US and has been for a long time. A melting pot is always a more vibrant community, regardless of any other factor in its makeup.

One thing it would pay to remember is that Excelsior can also be translated as "loftier" which does have somewhat snobbish overtones. People from New York are, of course, entitled to pride in their city, but they should still remember the roots of it spread far and wide.


@browncoat - Something I learned recently about New York is that the island is made of solid stone underneath which is the reason they can build those skyscrapers. There are very few other cities where they would be able to build that high because the foundations of the building would have to be reinforced so dramatically and it would be more expensive, or just plain impossible.

Of course, New York City also has all those buildings because it's a center of culture and with a massive population, but without being able to build upwards, it wouldn't have nearly as much character. The character of a city always seems to come from concentration of population and if a population cannot build up, they tend to sprawl out and create endless suburbs without much community.

So the stone underneath NYC is actually one of the many things that enables them to carry out the NY state motto to the letter.


I have heard that word used a lot and never realized what it meant. That does make sense, and makes even more sense in connection to New York City. I usually hear people say it when they are starting out on something new, and I thought it was something to do with achievement, but the literal translation can be taken both ways, in regards to achievement, and the high buildings that New York is famous for.

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    • "Excelsior"--meaning "ever upward"--is New York's state motto.
      By: Mihai Simonia
      "Excelsior"--meaning "ever upward"--is New York's state motto.