Illegitimi non carborundum

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

Latin meaning[edit]

The word illegitimi (i.e., the plural of illegitimus, 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. Non negates activity. Carborundum is an industrial abrasive material also known as silicon carbide, but its name resembles a Latin gerundive, a grammatical construct that expresses desirability of whatever the verb denotes. So carborundum can be mock-translated to mean "fit to be ground". Thus "illegitimi[s] non carborundum" would mean "not fit to be ground by the illegitimate", or "Don't let the bastards grind you down".[1]


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.[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, 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![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]


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
  • Nihil est in carborundum, illegitimae

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[6] (another Latin word for bastard is nothus, but it is very uncommon).[7] 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.[8]

Use as a motto[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Israel, Mark. "'Illegitimis non carborundum'". Retrieved January 6, 2015. 
  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. ^ JM Latin English Dictionary. "spurius meaning". Latin Dictionary. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  7. ^ Chambers Murray Latin Dictionary, page 468
  8. ^ See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown, 1989), pp. 36f
  9. ^ Nil Carborundum (TV 1962) – IMDb
  10. ^ Cory Doctorow. "Makers". Tor Books. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  11. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 7 Jun 1993". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  12. ^ "Taylor Townsend - The O.C. (Season 3) | Planet Claire Quotes". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  13. ^ Terry Roberts (20 February 2009). "Williams hopes Harper takes a few tips from Obama". Retrieved 2010-04-15. 

External links[edit]