When Sparta’s husbands and sons departed for battle, their wives and mothers voiced a grave farewell. Chroniclers say their goodbye was a short, “with it or on it.” The “it” was the Spartan shield. The complete meaning was “Return from battle with your shield or on your shield (honorable death).” In the Wizard of Ads lexicon, “With it or on it” is a BCE brandable chunk (BC). The phrase also illustrates Roy H. William’s sage declaration that “shorter is better.”
This BCE BC is powerful because of the double depth behind it: the Spartan shield and Spartans. The Battle of Thermopylae (many know it by the 2006 movie, The 300) wasn’t a “one-off.” By 480 BCE, Sparta had been fighting in the hoplite phalanx for close to 200 years. The soldier held his shield with his left hand, protecting the man to his left. With his right arm, he wielded his spear. The shield was more effective in a phalanx formation than in individual combat. To a Spartan warrior, the shield represented fidelity to the line, the unit, and the polis. In his novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield crafts a vivid scene spanning six pages in which a Spartan trainer metes out incredibly harsh discipline to a trainee, who has mishandled his shield. That portrayal underscores the power of “with it or on it.” It is etched in my memory. Building brandable chunks isn’t a life-and-death struggle, but it’s worth wrestling words to come up with power-backed phrases.
Beyond the shield, Spartans survived on simple diets in sparse conditions (a spartan existence)—the antithesis of another powerful Hellenistic city-state, Athens. Spartans were noted for the brevity of their sharp-edged wit. The word, laconic, springs from Sparta’s regional territory, Laconia and its political community, Lacedaemon. The Spartans made short work of dining, living conditions, and words. Philologists uncovered this BCE brandable chunk. Archeologists are searching for the bumper sticker.