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.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.