Jump to content

Illegitimi non carborundum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A gravestone inscribed with the phrase

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.


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).[1]

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][3] It was later further popularized in the US by 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.[1]

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![4]

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

"Latin" meaning[edit]

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

A man wearing a suit, standing at a podium
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.[11]

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; instead, it is a genericized trademark[12] derived from the word corundum, a word of Tamil origin.[13] However, it resembles a Latin gerundive, so can be interpreted as a hypothetical "fit to be carborere-ed" or "to be carborere-ed".[14]

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

There are many variants of the phrase, such as Illegitimis non carborundum, Noli illegitimi carborundum and Nil illegitimi carborundum, all of them Dog Latin. Sometimes (as in The Handmaid's Tale), carborundum is prolonged to carborundorum, as if a Latin second declension neuter genitive plural of a noun ending in -um. This is purely jocular and cannot have a grammatical meaning in Latin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c William Safire (2008). Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 339. ISBN 978-0-19-534061-7.
  2. ^ Amerasia 10:7:187 (1946) "illegitimati+non+carborundum" Archived 2021-09-10 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Why Do We Say ...?, Nigel Rees, 1987, ISBN 0-7137-1944-3
  4. ^ Primus V (2012) Ipso facto!. Harvard Magazine, November–December Archived 2013-06-15 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed April 2013)
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ de Iturrospe, Maria Teresa Muñoz García (2012). "La atracción de la falsa palabra y del código prohibido en Margaret Atwood: nolite te bastardes carborundorum". Antigüedad y Cristianismo (29). Murcia, Spain: 357–371. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  8. ^ Bradley, Laura (May 3, 2017). "Handmaid's Tale: The Strange History of "Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum"". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on November 3, 2020. Retrieved September 14, 2019."
  9. ^ Travis, Tiffini A.; Hardy, Perry (2012). Skinheads: A Guide to an American Subculture. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0313359538.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1989), pp. 36f
  12. ^ Douglas Harper. "Carborundum". Etymonline. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  13. ^ Douglas Harper. "Corundum". Etymonline. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  14. ^ Israel, Mark. "'Illegitimis non carborundum'". alt-usage-english.org. Archived from the original on January 13, 2004. Retrieved January 6, 2015.

External links[edit]