Latin Messages on the American One-Dollar Bill


Recently I rented Oliver Stones’ movie, “Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps”.  I just can’t seem to get enough of the dramatic events which led to the 2008 Wall Street’s meltdown.  It was so intense, the world is still feelings its effects.  It’s expected that Italy could be the next domino to fall.

The last scenes of the movie showed close up shots of the Great Seal of the United States and several Latin phrases I had never noticed before.  As soon as the picture was over, I stretched me hand to a nearby table and opened my wallet and unfolded a dollar bill.   Yep, the Latin phrases were right there before my eyes.

My next step was to take snaps of the phrases with my old Birthday camera and Google them to find out what they meant.  This is what I found out.

Snapshot of one dollar bill which includes several Latin phrases I had no idea existed on the Federal paper note. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Picture of the reverse of dollar bill where you will find the Great Seal of the United States. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy F. Geithner. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of the signature of the Treasurer of the United States, Rosa G. Rios. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.

Rosie Ríos has a direct oversight over the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and Fort Knox, and is a key liaison with the Federal Reserve.

A close up view of a message on the dollar bill that clearly says, "This note is a legal tender for all debts, public and private." Debt is a hot potato in the U.S. Congress and the whole world as well. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of the Great Seal of the United States displaying a large Roman number and several Latin phrases. Photo ©Omar Upegui R.

The unusual large Roman number MDCCLXXVI is 1776.  The year the United States of America declared its independence from Great Britain—July 4, 1776.

Annuit Coeptis—Classical Latin—taken from the words annuo (third-person singular present or perfect annuit), “to nod” or “to approve”, and coeptum (plural coepta), “commencement, undertaking”, it is literally translated, “He approves (has approved) of the undertakings.”

Charles Thompson (a former Latin teacher), the designer of the Great Seal of the United States, gave the following explanation regarding the meaning of the seal:  “The Eye over it [the pyramid] and the motto Annuit Cœptis allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor of the American cause.”

The Latin phrase Novus Ordo Seclorum means “New Order of the Ages”.  It was first designed in 1782 and printed on the back of the United States one-dollar bill since 1935. The phrase also appears on the coat of arms of the Yale School of Management, Yale University’s business school.

The phrase is taken from the fourth Eclogue of the Roman poet Virgil.  The designer of the seal, Charles Thompson, proposed this Latin phrase to signify “the beginning of the new American Era” as of the date of the Declaration of Independence.

And now you know the rest of the story about the Latin phrases on your one-dollar bill.  Good Day.

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