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.
The phrase was adopted by US Army General "Vinegar" Joe Stilwell as his motto during the war, in the form Illegitimati non carborundum. It was later further popularized in the US by 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
The phrase is also used as the first line of one of the extra dog 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!
The phrase, often accompanied by an English translation, has appeared in many places:
- 1958, the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and film of the same name, as the motto of the main character, Arthur Seaton.
- 1963, possibly earlier, as illegitimus non carborundum used as the motto incorporated into the masthead of the Whitehorse Star newspaper.
- 1984, the motto of 2nd battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (United States)
- 1985, (as Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum) the novel The Handmaid's Tale. The phrase is depicted as graffiti representing a "silent revolt" by a "slave woman in a futuristic totalitarian regime".[dead link] Vanity Fair called the phrase a "feminist rallying cry".
- 1991, the final line of the chorus in the U2 song "Acrobat", is "Don't let the bastards grind you down."
- 1997, the second-wave ska band The Toasters' song "Don't Let The Bastards Grind You Down" appeared in the pilot episode of the animated series Mission Hill.
- 2014, the desk of former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner.
The sentence is Dog Latin, that is, it is a Latin–English pun with only a mock translation.
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.
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.
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.
- Amerasia 10:7:187 (1946) "illegitimati+non+carborundum"&dq="illegitimati+non+carborundum" Archived 2021-09-10 at the Wayback Machine
- Why Do We Say ...?, Nigel Rees, 1987, ISBN 0-7137-1944-3
- 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
- Primus V (2012) Ipso facto!. Harvard Magazine, November–December Archived 2013-06-15 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed April 2013)
- "ExploreNorth, An Explorer's Guide to the North - Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star, 1960-1969". www.explorenorth.com. Archived from the original on September 25, 2020. Retrieved November 5, 2020.
The motto is shown on the Whitehorse Yukon Star masthead which accompanied a July 15, 1963 newspaper article.
- Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (January 27, 1986). "Books of the Times". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 30, 2020. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
- 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.[permanent dead link]
- Bradley, Laura (May 3, 2017). "Handmaid's Tale: The Strange History of "Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum"". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on November 3, 2020. Retrieved September 14, 2019."
- Travis, Tiffini A.; Hardy, Perry (2012). Skinheads: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0313359538.
- nycsouthpaw. "The 10 Most Interesting Things On John Boehner's Desk". Buzzfeed.com. Archived from the original on 2013-10-13. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
- See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1989), pp. 36f
- Israel, Mark. "'Illegitimis non carborundum'". alt-usage-english.org. Archived from the original on January 13, 2004. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
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