No-do and no8do

During the years of the Franco dictatorship in Spain, “Noticiarios y  Documentales”- government-controlled newsreels popularly known as no-do bulletins- were a regular feature in movie theatres.  Their popularity declined sharply after the death of Franco and the opening of Spain to Europe and the world. Although the no-do newsreels now in the Spanish Film Archive contain priceless images of Spanish history from 1942 until 1975, they also comprise a historical record of the propaganda efforts of the dictatorship and the notorious misinformation and disinformation to which the Spanish public was condemned during this period.

Familiar with the ridicule generally given to the term no-do (I’ve heard people remark that someone was “más corto que un no-do”, playing off the Spanish phrase “corto de luces” to describe someone as not very brilliant), I was surprised to see the slogan NO8DO throughout Seville on banners, public bicycles, and even manhole covers. When I realized that it was the official motto of the City of Seville, I became curious about its meaning and the significance of the number 8 that figured in the design.

I learned that the Sevillian no8do is a rebus that has been romantically reinterpreted over centuries of a complex and rich history, but has nothing at all to do with fascists or newsreels.  It is generally agreed that the figure that joins the syllables no and do is not the number 8, but its origin and meaning are subjects of popular conjecture and debate. To some, the figure eight resembles a skein of yarn, referred to as a “madeja” in Spanish.  If one interprets it as such,  a phonetic reading of  the motto,  “No madeja do” can be stretched to “no me ha dejado”, which can be translated into English as “It has not abandoned me”.  Popular folklore attributes this phrase to the deposed King Alphonse X, known as “the Wise”, who found safe haven from his son Don Sancho in Seville in the turbulent thirteenth century. The story goes that in gratitude for its loyalty, Alphonse the Wise granted the city the right to include the motto in its coat of arms.  “No me ha dejado” can also mean “he didn’t let me”, without giving any particulars as to what wasn’t permitted, leaving the phrase open to alternative interpretations and the figure eight has also been interpreted by some as a Gordian knot.

The figure no8do appears in the coat of arms of numerous other European cities and can be traced to the Latin phrase nomen domine, meaning “in the name of the Lord”, in which the mysterious figure eight is revealed as being nothing more than the Latin nodus.  What appears to be an allusion to Proverbs 18:10, turris fortissimo nomen domine, was inscribed in the entablature of the bell tower of Seville Cathedral when it was altered in 1568. If the inscription, in fact, refers to the verse from Proverbs, with a little imagination the prosaic nomen domine theory and the poetic legend of the gratitude of Alphonse the Wise can both be accommodated. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the verse begins”, but goes on to declare, “The righteous run to it and are safe”.  As legend has it that the pious and cultured King Alphonse defended the emblematic bell tower in the period of the Reconquest and history records that he later sought refuge in its shadow,  taken together, the two theories provide us with a well-rounded story.