In omnia paratus (Family mottoes and O.R.)

Some years ago, the Operational Research Society in the UK invited its members to report early occasions in history where O.R. appeared to have been used.  The term O.R. was traced to the 1930s, but there were many earlier instances where models had been used in industry and commerce to answer the traditional O.R. questions of “What’s Best” and “What happens if …?”.  Lanchester’s laws were one such, and so were Erlang’s work on the Danish telephone service and Babbage’s book On the Economy of Machine and Manufacture.  An amusing response cited Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, with its famous line “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”.  The contributor explained that as the play progressed, the value of a horse remained constant, but the value of the kingdom (to Richard III) decreased until the two were equally valuable – a lesson in utility theory.

Throughout the middle ages, the British developed many proverbs and expressions which encapsulate lessons from O.R.  Thus:
“Many hands make light work” teaches that some tasks are best performed in teams.
“Too many cooks spoil the broth” teaches that there are times when a task is best left to an expert.
“Save some money for a rainy day” teaches that income and expenditure should be treated as an inventory problem, with a smoothing factor to ensure that the amount in hand is never negative.

Families chose mottoes to emphasise the ideas or philosophy of one of their leaders, and many British families and organisations retain their mottoes to this day.  Others have lost them, although there is a thriving business in discovering mottoes and heraldry for those of British ancestry who want something heraldic to hang on their wall at home. 

In my library at home, I have a book dating from the mid-19th century which lists hundreds of family mottoes and many of these have obvious parallels with O.R. lessons.  86 pages are devoted to family mottoes. So from pages 138 and 139 of “A Handbook of Proverbs, Mottoes, Quotations and Phrases” (Edited by James Allan Muir) (Published by George Routledge and Sons) I have chosen to tell the following case study:

The manager needed Instaurator ruinae.  So he called in some experts on O.R..  They claimed that they were In omnia paratus, and they had testimonials to say that they were In multis, in magnis, in bonis expertus.  The O.R. team brought their expertise and Ingenio et veribus, solved the problem.  Once their solution had been implemented, the manager was able to say, “Insperata floruit”.  Later, when the manager had paid the fee for their consultancy, the team were pleased to say “Industria ditat”.

The translations of these six mottoes, and the families to which they belong (according to the book) are:
  • In multis, in magnis, in bonis expertus (Tried in many, in great, and in good exploits) [Bowes]
  • In omnia paratus (Prepared for all things) [Layton and Prittie]
  • Industria ditat (Industry enriches) [Paxton and Wattchop]
  • Ingenio et veribus (By the force of genius) [Huddleston]
  • Insperata floruit (It has flourished beyond expectation) [Cleghorn and Watson]
  • Instaurator ruinae (A repairer of ruins) [Forsyth]
The book is vague about surnames with multiple mottoes; so there are about a dozen mottoes for the surname “Smith”, none of which belongs to my branch of the family.  If I were to adopt one of them, I would select “Tenax et fidelis” (Persevering and faithful)


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