Strange goings-on in New Britain ... from the Courant:

Sometime in the 1800s, Elihu Burritt coined a motto for the city.

The phrase, "Industria implet alveare et mele fruitur," is on city business cards, the city website and on banners along city streets. It boasts that "Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey."

Whether Burritt was distracted at the time or just a bad speller of Latin will never be known, but one of the words in the motto, "mele," doesn't exist. The correct word is "melle."

Former Mayor William McNamara first noticed it about 25 years ago. But in a town where Spanish and Polish sometimes eclipse English, McNamara stands alone in his concern about the rightful place of an extra "l."

"Bill's a very intelligent guy, but he's got too much time on his hands," said Mayor Timothy Stewart.

McNamara, who once issued an unheeded mayoral edict to fix the motto, has asked Stewart to take up the cause.

"Would you humor this old pedant, and in the future, should the city order any merchandise with the city's motto, specify that it be printed, engraved, or whatever, correctly," he asked in a letter to Stewart. "It should be ...melle as Maecenas, and his friends Livy, Cicero, and Vergil would have spoken and written it, during the time of Augustus." Another possible spelling is "mel," but McNamara and scholars agree that "melle" is the better choice.

The motto will only be changed, Stewart said, if necessary.

"We'll do it in due time," he said, chuckling. "I have to go to a Latin teacher and figure it out."

Yelena Baraz, an assistant professor of classics at Trinity College, and Roger Travis, an associate professor of classics at the University of Connecticut, agree that the correct form of the word is "melle."

Lou Salvio, a common council member and retired teacher, borrowed from his specialty in entomology to try to figure out where the motto went wrong.

"A honey bee is an insect, and the Latin name for the honey bee is Apis mellifera," Salvio said.

Seeking further clarity, Salvio consulted his old yearbook, which has a picture of a beehive, but found no words around it. He inspected the city seal on a lapel pin, but couldn't read the Lilliputian writing. He pledged to try to read the motto on the city flag.

Still, academic pursuits have their limits.

"I would say that the controversy over the spelling of honey or honey bee is probably more of a scholar's controversy than it refers to the city of New Britain," Salvio said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's not worth making all those drastic changes."

Over at the Texas Lunch diner, Peter Oshana, a former common council member, drew a blank when asked about the city's motto. Oshana, who studied Latin in school and used to attend a Catholic Mass in Latin, doesn't remember the language anymore.

But he did remember one thing: his Latin teacher.

"Mr. Gurski - he'd throw an eraser at you when you fell asleep," said Oshana, who has since overcome his somnolent days.

"And he was loud."

The city, he said, should translate the Latin phrase into English.

"We don't sit around reading Latin," he said.