Be Prepared: The origin story behind the Scout motto

Upon hearing the Scout motto, someone asked Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell the inevitable follow-up question.

“Prepared for what?”

“Why, for any old thing,” he replied.

In 1907, Baden-Powell, an English soldier, devised the Scout motto: Be Prepared. He published it in Scouting for Boys in 1908. (Two years later, in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was founded.)

In Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell wrote that to Be Prepared means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”

More than a century later, preparedness is still a cornerstone of Scouting. Through its fun, values-based program, Scouting prepares young people for life.

B-P and B.P.

Notice how the initials for Be Prepared and Baden-Powell are the same? That’s no coincidence; it’s just the way Baden-Powell planned it.

In the late 1900s, Baden-Powell wanted young people equipped to react quickly to an emergency. The Great War loomed, and soon the Boy Scouts — not a military organization but a service-minded one — would be called upon to play their part.

“Their keen eyes were added to the watchers along the coasts,” Winston Churchill wrote in a piece published in Scouting magazine in 1955. “In the air raids we saw the spectacle of children of 12 and 14 performing with perfect coolness and composure the useful function assigned to them in the streets and public offices.”

But Baden-Powell wasn’t just thinking about first aid and wartime emergencies when he coined the motto. This is from the 13th/latest edition of the Boy Scout Handbook:

His idea was that Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and strong leaders and to bring joy to other people. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.

Siempre Listo

As Scouting has spread to include 164 National Scout Organizations around the world, the motto has been adapted and translated into dozens of languages.

French-speaking Scouts strive to be Toujours Prêt, “always ready.” That’s also the English translation of the motto used in many Spanish-speaking countries: Siempre Listo.

Be Prepared becomes Budi Pripravan in Croatian, Sii Preparato in Italian and Wees Geréed in Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa and Namibia.

In any language, Baden-Powell’s original intent survives. By spending time as Scouts, young people learn to handle anything life puts in front of them. They learn to Be Prepared.

Two powerful words

Need one more reminder of the importance of the Scout motto? Consider the Eagle Scout medal, which represents the highest honor in Scouting.

Notice that the medal includes just two words.

18 Comments

  1. I love this motto. The US Coast Guard has the motto “Semper Paratus” which translates to always prepared. I also like the old Cub Scout motto of “Do Your Best”. Living by these two mottos should give a young (or old) man a good shot at success.

  2. I remember when I watched the movie Heartbreak Ridge, (Clint Eastwood, invasion of Grenada), and learned the Marine Corps Force Recon motto was “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome”. I thought “WOW! That should be our Motto!” Since 9 times out of 10 we aren’t prepared, we end up improvising, adapting, and (hopefully) overcoming whatever obstacles we encounter.

    I’ve joked about that ever since I first saw that movie many years ago, and still think it holds true today.

    • The US Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis” which means “Always Faithful”. ” Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” is an adopted mantra………..Like……Gung Ho, Hoorah, etc.

  3. The Scout Motto has been a strong driving force in my life since Scouting. I pray that the Boy Scouts of America rediscovers the honor and moral rightness that was cherished and acted upon by those that came before them.

  4. My favorite Bible verse is 1 Peter 3:15 –

    But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

    Be prepared.

  5. I think that it was late 1800s….?? not “late 1900s”. Isn’t Baden-Powell usually referred to Lord Baden Powell?
    This article was a great reminder of the importance of “Be Prepared”. And, the inclusion of the pledge in several languages & applications was very interesting. What a great way to introduce our Scouts to a bit of Scout history & to their worldwide counterparts!
    Thank you for including this view of the broader world of Scouting that we are reminded of every four years at the World Jamboree.

  6. I remember after I joined Boy Scouts (after completing all of Cub Scouts) “way back” in 1983 at age 11, my dad and I were talking about Scouts, and he gave me a pop quiz:

    Dad: “What’s the Scout motto?”
    Me: “Be prepared.”
    Dad: “Be prepared for what?”
    Me, after thinking for a moment: “Anything!”

    He said, “That’s right. Even Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, said that.”

    Then he told me the story of the motto and B-P’s famous quote: “Why, B.P. for any old thing.”

    I’m proud to have reached Eagle in 1987 and am in a profession that allows me to develop leadership, be a productive citizen and bring joy to other people.

    Thanks for the memories and sharing this story!

  7. Tiger handbook that we are all using says the motto is Do Your Best. Did that change recently? I like Be Prepared. Just curious.

    • The Cub Scout motto has not changed. The Law of the Pack and Cub Scout Oath were replaced with the Boy Scout Oath and Scout Law with the last major program change. Cub Scouts still “Do Your Best.”

  8. I got my eagle in 1972. I have never forgot what scouts taught my and I us those skills daily. In this 21st century, being prepared is more important to use now more than anytime in history. We are now being faced with so many possible catastrophes that being prepared is upmost important. Thanks Baden.

  9. Toujours Pret en Paris, Lome Togo, Bruxelles, et Quebec Ville Quebec. Sempre Listo en Madrid, Buenos Aires, Ciudad de Mexico, San Juan y Managua. Sii Preparato en Firenze, e Venezia e Palermo en Italia e Locarno en Svizzzera. Wees Geréed in Kap Stasd/ Cape Town South Africa and Windhoek in Namibia. Something similar in Amsterdam Holland and Antwerp Belgium. But they are watch words of scouts who make the highest rank in boy scouts in France, Togo, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Nicaragua, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, Namibia, and Netherlands.

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