Illegitimi non carborundum

Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism, often translated as "Don't let the bastards grind you down". The phrase itself has no meaning in Latin and can only be mock-translated as a Latin–English pun.

A gravestone inscribed with the Latin phrase


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 is a nonsense sequence of Latin clichés:

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, often accompanied by an English translation, has appeared in many places:

"Latin" meaningEdit

The sentence is Dog Latin, that is, it is a Latin–English pun with only a mock translation.

UK politician Nigel Farage wearing a necktie that reads Non Illegitimi Carborundum.

The first word varies between illegitimi and illegitimis. Illegitimi is presumably the nominative plural of illegitimus meaning "unlawful" or "outlaw" in Latin, but interpreted as English "illegitimate" in the sense of "bastard", in this case, used as a generic insult.[9]

Illegitimis may be intended as an ablative plural, but if carborundum is intended to resemble a gerundive, it is more likely intended as a dative plural, since the gerundive takes a dative of agent. The meaning, in either case, is "by the outlaws/bastards."

The second word non is a straightforward negation.

The third word, carborundum, is an abrasive used for industrial grinding. It is not a Latin word, but resembles a Latin gerundive, so can be interpreted as "fit to be ground" or "to be ground".[10]

If carborere (3rd conjugation) were a Latin word meaning "to grind down", the phrase would be correct Latin for "(It/One) must not be ground down by the outlaws".

There are many variants of the phrase, such as Illegitimis non carborundum, Noli illegitimi carborundum and Nil illegitimi carborundum, all of them Dog Latin.

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. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (January 27, 1986). "Books of the Times". The New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  6. ^ de Iturrospe, Maria Teresa Muñoz García (2012). "La atracción de la falsa palabra y del código prohibido en Margaret Atwood: nolite te bastardes carborundorum" (PDF). Antigüedad y Cristianismo. Murcia, Spain (29): 357–371. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  7. ^ Bradley, Laura (May 3, 2017). "Handmaid's Tale: The Strange History of "Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum"". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved September 14, 2019."
  8. ^ nycsouthpaw. "The 10 Most Interesting Things On John Boehner's Desk". Retrieved 2014-06-19.
  9. ^ See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1989), pp. 36f
  10. ^ Israel, Mark. "'Illegitimis non carborundum'". Retrieved January 6, 2015.

External linksEdit