Illegitimi non carborundum
Carborundum, also known as silicon carbide, is an industrial abrasive material, but its name resembles a Latin gerundive, a grammatical construct that expresses desirability of whatever the verb denotes. In this case, carborundum can humorously be "translated" in English to mean "fit to be ground". The word illegitimi (i.e. the plural of illegitimus, which actually translates to "unlawful" or "outlaw" but resembles the English "illegitimate") is sometimes given in the plural dative case (that is, illegitimīs), a case that follows the Latin gerundive and denotes agency; together with carborundum, the phrase supposedly means "fit to be ground by the illegitimate (i.e. bastards)". Finally, non negates the activity of the gerundive, producing "not fit to be ground by the bastards". The phrase is then generally reworded into "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 plural dative/ablative illegitimis). The phrase was adopted by US Army General "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell as his motto during the war. 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 cod Latin verses added in 1953 to an unofficial school song at Harvard University: Ten Thousand Men of Harvard. This, the most frequently played Fight song of the Harvard Marching Band, is, to some extent, a parody of more solemn school songs like "Fair Harvard thy sons to your Jubilee throng" etc. 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!
The phrase is also used as part of a student painted crest on the bottom floor of Hodge Hall at Princeton Theological Seminary.
There are many variants of the phrase, such as
- Non illegitimae carborundum
- Noli illegitimi carborundum
- Nil illegitimi carborundum
- Non illegitimis carborundum
- Illegitimi nil carborundum - echoing the Latin tag nil desperandum ('never despair', 'don't give up')
- Nil bastardo carborundum
- Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
- Nil carborundum ab illegitimati
- Illegitimis non carborundum
- Nil illegitimo in desperandum carborundum
- Nil carborundum illegitamae
- Nec Illegitimi carborundum
- Nolite Illegitimos Conterere Vos
- Non carborundum bastardum
None of these variants is 'legitimate' Latin any more than the original. Carborundum is a noun and not a gerundive of any verb (although it does look like a gerundive). Also 'bastard' in Latin is spurius (another Latin word for bastard is nothus, but it is very uncommon). The two most common variations translate as follows: illegitimi non carborundum = the unlawful are not silicon carbide, illegitimis non carborundum = the unlawful don't have silicon carbide.
"Bastards" is often used in English as a generic derogatory term, not necessarily relating to the marital status of one's parents.
Use as a motto
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- "E-1 Vikings" - Echo Company, First Regiment, United States Corps of Cadets, United States Military Academy
- "F2 Zoo" – Foxtrot Company, Second Regiment, United States Military Academy
- The U.S. submarine USS Tunny (SSN-682)
- The weekly Alaskan newspaper the Nome Nugget
- Whitehorse Star, newspaper in the capital of the Yukon Territory
- University of Idaho Navy ROTC Drill Team
- The comic strip Odd Bodkins
- U.S. Air Force 490th Missile Squadron "Farsiders", Malmstrom AFB, MT
- US Army Special Forces 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
- Informal motto of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
- E-3 Dragons - Echo Company 3rd Regiment, United States Corps of Cadets, 1969-1973, United States Military Academy
- The Science Department of Chenango Forks High School in Binghamton, New York
In popular culture
- Nil Carborundum, title of a 1962 play and TV comedy by Henry Livings.
- Referenced in the 1958 novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe.
- Nil bastardi carborundum" is referenced in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon
- Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, in The Handmaid's Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood.
- Illegitimi non carborundum, in Lucifer's Hammer (1977) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
- Illegitimi non carborundum, in The Dark Design (1977) by Philip Jose Farmer
- Nil illegitimo carborundum is a maxim credited to the fictional philosopher Didactylos in Terry Pratchett's Small Gods.
- Non Illegitimus Carborundum is the school motto of the fictional girls' school St. Trinian's, appearing on the school's coat of arms.
- Illegitimis non Carborundum is printed on a banner in the artwork for The Toasters' 7th studio album Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down and Dee Snider's solo album Never Let the Bastards Wear You Down.
- Nil carborundum illegitimus is a phrase (sometimes abbreviated N.C.I) used by Kath Lewis in Donald Jack's novels Three Cheers for Me and That's Me in the Middle.
- Nil carborundum illegitimis is said by Landon Kettlewell in Cory Doctorow's Makers
- Spoken by "Ozzie", protagonist of the 1997 Patrick Stewart film Masterminds.
- Motörhead has a song called "(Don't Let 'Em) Grind Ya Down" on their Iron Fist album, in which the last phrase is "Don't let the bastards grind you down".
- "So don't let the bastards grind you down" is the chorus of the song "Acrobat", by U2.
- Inscribed on a watch given by the Member of Parliament Michael Mates to Asil Nadir of Polly Peck fame.
- Mentioned with translation by the Member of Parliament for Twickenham Toby Jessel in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on June 7, 1993.
- Mentioned in the TV show The OC by Taylor Townsend at the end of her graduation speech.
- Mentioned by Premier of Newfoundland, Danny Williams in reference to a power deal with Nalcor Energy on February 20, 2009.
- Mentioned in the final episode "Richie" of the Australian TV series The Slap (2011)
- Stated by Janet King in the Australian Legal Drama Crownies (2011)
- The main character of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs says the phrase.
- In the television series Third Watch, Doc's father has a wall plaque that bears the phrase, which is translated as "don't let the bastards get you down" by Doc.
- In the television series Porridge the character Norman Fletcher uses the phrase frequently to remind his fellow prison inmates to keep their spirits up.
- In the children's novel The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, "Nil carborundum" is used twice.
- Israel, Mark. "'Illegitimis non carborundum'". alt-usage-english.org. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
- 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 (Accessed April 2013)
- nycsouthpaw. "The 10 Most Interesting Things On John Boehner's Desk". Buzzfeed.com. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
- JM Latin English Dictionary. "spurius meaning". Latin Dictionary. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
- Chambers Murray Latin Dictionary, page 468
- See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown, 1989), pp. 36f
- Nil Carborundum (TV 1962) – IMDb
- Cory Doctorow. "Makers". Tor Books. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
- Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 7 Jun 1993". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "Taylor Townsend - The O.C. (Season 3) | Planet Claire Quotes". Planetclaire.org. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
- Terry Roberts (20 February 2009). "Williams hopes Harper takes a few tips from Obama". TheWesternStar.com. Retrieved 2010-04-15.