Illegitimi non carborundum

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A gravestone inscribed with the Latin phrase

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 Stilwell 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 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 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 Illegitimis non carborundum, Noli illegitimi carborundum and Nil illegitimi carborundum. No version using carborundum as a verb is legitimate Latin, as carborundum is a noun and not a gerundive of any verb, although it does look like a gerundive. Also the word bastard in Latin is spurius[6] or, much less commonly, nothus.[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]

Early appearances of the Latin phrase in fiction are the 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe and the 1960 novel A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow. It is translated as Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, in Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale. The aphorism appears in both the book and TV versions of The Handmaid's Tale.

Nil carborundum illegitimus is a phrase (sometimes abbreviated N.C.I) in Donald Jack's novels Three Cheers for Me and That's Me in the Middle.

Nil Carborundum is the title of a 1962 play and TV comedy by Henry Livings.[9]

The phrase 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. 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". The same phrase also appears in U2's song Acrobat off of Achtung Baby.

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

External links[edit]