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Illegitimi non carborundum

A gravestone inscribed with the Latin phrase

Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism possibly read as "Don't let the bastards grind you down".



The phrase originated during World War II. Lexicographer Eric Partridge attributes it to British army intelligence very early in the war (using the dative plural illegitimis).

The phrase was adopted by US Army General "Vinegar" Joe Stilwell as his motto during the war, in the form Illegitimati non carborundum.[1][2] It was later further popularized in the US by 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.[3]

The phrase is also used as the first line of one of the extra cod Latin verses added in 1953 to an unofficial school song at Harvard University, "Ten Thousand Men of Harvard". This most frequently played fight song of the Harvard University Band, is, to some extent, a parody of more solemn school songs like "Fair Harvard thy Sons to your Jubilee Throng". The first verse goes:

Illegitimum non carborundum;
Domine salvum fac.
Illegitimum non carborundum;
Domine salvum fac.
Gaudeamus igitur!
Veritas non sequitur?
Illegitimum non carborundum—ipso facto![4]

The phrase is also used as part of a student painted crest on the bottom floor of Hodge Hall at Princeton Theological Seminary.

A wooden plaque bearing the phrase sat prominently on the desk of former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner.[5]

“Latin” meaningEdit

The sentence has no meaning in Latin, but is Dog Latin. In other words, this is a Latin-English pun and this sentence can only be mock-translated.

The first word illegitimi or illegitimis[6] is the plural of illegitimus, which actually translates to "unlawful" or "outlaw" but resembles the English "illegitimate". The second word is a straightforward negation. The third word Carborundum sounds like an industrial abrasive material also known as silicon carbide used in industry since 1890, hence the meaning of “grinding”. This is not a Latin word, but because the ending of "carborundum" looks like Latin gerundive, the word is read as “fit to be ground” or “should be ground”.[7]

Though, if carborere had been an actual Latin word meaning "to grind down", the phrase would actually be correct Latin for "It must not be ground down by the outlaws". Without carborere, illegitimi non carborundum could mean “the unlawful are [or have] not silicon carbide”. There are many variants of the phrase, such as Illegitimis non carborundum, Noli illegitimi carborundum and Nil illegitimi carborundum, all of them Dog Latin.

The word bastard in Latin is spurius[8] or, much less commonly, nothus.[9], though bastards is often used in English as a generic derogatory term, not necessarily relating to the marital status of one's parents.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Amerasia 10:7:187 (1946) "illegitimati+non+carborundum"&dq="illegitimati+non+carborundum"
  2. ^ Why Do We Say ...?, Nigel Rees, 1987, ISBN 0-7137-1944-3
  3. ^ Illegitimi Non Carborundum page, at Santa Cruz Public Libraries ready reference, quoting William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary Archived February 9, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Primus V (2012) Ipso facto!. Harvard Magazine, November-December (Accessed April 2013)
  5. ^ nycsouthpaw. "The 10 Most Interesting Things On John Boehner's Desk". Retrieved 2014-06-19.
  6. ^ Usage actually varies between two words: illegitimis and illegitimi. In Latin, the ending of a word is called the "case" of a word. Both words are plural, but illegitimi bears the nominative case and illegitimis the dative case. You have the choice between the two, the first one without the S acts the subject of the sentence, whereas the second one with the S follows the case of the word carborundum, which is also of dative case. Usage varied across the centuries around the cases close to a Latin gerundive.
  7. ^ Israel, Mark. "'Illegitimis non carborundum'". Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  8. ^ JM Latin English Dictionary. "spurius meaning". Latin Dictionary. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
  9. ^ Chambers Murray Latin Dictionary, page 468
  10. ^ See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown, 1989), pp. 36f

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