Pop Culture dictionary

Excelsior

What does Excelsior mean?

Excelsior is a Latin word translated into English as a motto meaning "Ever upward!"

It was famously the catchphrase of Marvel comics legend Stan Lee.

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Examples of Excelsior
With great power comes great responsibility. Excelsior!
@TheRealStanLee, May 2018
So thanks for all the stories, Stan, and I know you're hearing this a lot today, but "Excelsior."
Stephen Colbert, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, November 2018
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Where does Excelsior come from?
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Excelsior is a Latin adjective that literally means “higher” or “more elevated.” It is connected to the Latin verb excellere, which is where the English excel comes from.

In 1778, the state of New York adopted a coat of arms that included the word Excelsior, which it took to mean “ever upward.” Excelsior also appears on the New York state seal and state flag, both depicting the coat of arms. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow helped further popularize Excelsior as an aspirational cry for “Ever upward!” in an 1841 poem.

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Stan Lee, a New Yorker who began working on comics in the 1960s, first used Excelsior in the “Stan’s Soapbox” section of the 1968 Fantastic Four #71. Lee had used other phrases as a sign-off in earlier issues, but Lee said that his competitors began stealing his catchphrases. So, Lee decided on a phrase that was more obscure and difficult to spell so none of his rivals would copy it. The gambit worked, and Lee used Excelsior as a personal catchphrase for the rest of his life, including as the title of a memoir.

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Even when being playfully mocked, Lee couldn’t avoid Excelsior, as seen in this sketch from a 2007 episode of the TV show Robot Chicken. (Lee voiced himself in the episode.)

Who uses Excelsior?

Two things have cornered the market on Excelsior: New York State, where it appears on its official insignia, and Stan Lee. Lee used Excelsior an untold number of times. His Twitter account alone includes over 100 uses of it.

After Stan Lee died on November 12, 2018, Excelsior trended worldwide as millions of fans Tweeted his catchphrase in honor of him.

Lee was so beloved in the comic industry that even DC Comics, heated rival of Marvel (who published Lee’s books) threw out an Excelsior to honor his memory.

Like New York State and Stan Lee, people may use Excelsior as a way to express ambition and aspiration, always striving for greatness.

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Note

This is not meant to be a formal definition of Excelsior like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Excelsior that will help our users expand their word mastery.