Illegitimi non carborundum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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

Latin meaning[edit]

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".[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

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]