‘Do Different’: a motto to be remembered, quoted and practised

Each year the UEA Students’ Union hosts a week-long festival of events encouraging students to ‘Do Something Different’, try something new, build knowledge and experience, meet new friends and have fun along the way. A wide range of extra-curricular activities are submitted to the programme, there’s something for everyone. By the end of the week (19-23 Feb) it is hoped that as many as possible will be able to say “I did different.”

This tradition is very much in keeping with the spirit of UEA when ‘Do different’ was adopted as the fledgling university’s motto in 1963. ‘Do different’ can be seen embedded in the foot of our coat of arms, along with three gold crowns symbolising the ancient kingdom of East Anglia, an angel holding an open book to indicate a place of learning and Norwich Castle at its centre.UEA Do different

Choosing a motto proved more controversial than deciding on the design of a coat of arms. The last thing Frank Thistlethwaite (founding Vice-Chancellor) wanted for a mid-twentieth century university was yet another late Victorian Latin tag. He was encouraged in this by medieval historian and friend Michael Maclagan. “Heraldry, [Maclagan] said, ever since it first evolved had been characterised by an element of pageant, of theatre, indeed of kitsch. Mottos should be bold and simple and were often in the vernacular.”

Ever since Thistlethwaite had come to Norwich he had enjoyed the Norfolk dialect saying ‘in Norfolk we du different’. He used the phrase as the theme in an early speech and won praise from the Eastern Evening News which ran with a headline ‘Du Different a Virtue’. The expression is based on the independent spirit of East Anglians who prefer the course of action they feel to be right to that which is conventional. When encouraged by the dean of BIO, Thomas Bennet-Clark, Thistlethwaite jumped at the chance to adopt it, though after going through the College of Arms mill it emerged as ‘Do different’.

UEA.SMI Do different (1)

Adrian Smith’s letter home, 1964.

It was found to be a contentious choice, some thinking it was making fun at the Norfolk dialect. Others praised it for expressing the independent nature of the local character. UEA’s attempt to produce a motto which broke with tradition, yet aimed to please, won it instant recognition for living up to its motto from the outset.

The rightness of the choice, as Thistlethwaite pointed out many decades later, has been proven over time, a motto not only remembered but quoted; and in this week of ‘Do Something Different’, brought into play.

Thistlethwaite, Frank. Origins: a personal reminiscence of UEA’s foundation.
UEA Collection/SMI (student’s correspondence, 1963-1966)].

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