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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 ablative 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]

The phrase is written on a wooden sign with its translation in the main stage of the Kingston Mines in Chicago.

“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.

British politician Nigel Farage speaking before the European Parliament in January 2019. The red text on his necktie says Non Illegitimi Carborundum.

The first word is illegitimi or illegitimis. Usage actually varies between these two "words". In Latin, the ending of a noun or adjective is marked for grammatical case and number. The form illegitimi could be genitive singular or nominative/vocative plural of illegitimus, which actually translates to "unlawful" or "outlaw" but resembles the English "illegitimate", in the 2nd declension; while illegitimis could be either dative plural or (more likely in this context) ablative plural. The nominative is used for the subject of the sentence, whereas the ablative can mean "by", as in "by the outlaws/bastards". The second word non 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". It is not a Latin word, but because the ending of "carborundum" looks like a Latin gerundive, the word can be interpreted as "fit to be ground" or "to be ground".[6][7] The form of carborundum strongly suggests the accusative (object) case adjective, or possibly a neuter noun. Usage varied across the centuries around the cases close to[clarification needed] a Latin gerundive.

Thus, if carborere (3rd conjugation) 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 for bastard in Classical Latin is often 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] In Medieval Latin, bastardus literally does mean "bastard" in the classical sense of illegitimate child, as a loanword from Frankish. Another latinism with a similar meaning is "filius nullius."[11]

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. ^ Israel, Mark. "'Illegitimis non carborundum'". Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  7. ^ In old-fashioned Latin textbooks this was often rendered as "meet [meat] to be ground".
  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 Publishing Group, 1989), pp. 36f
  11. ^ "filius nullius". Webster's Dictionary. Retrieved January 26, 2019.

External linksEdit