A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 22, 2010
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down” (Illegitimi non carborundum)

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Illegitimi non carborundum
Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism jokingly taken to mean “don’t let the bastards grind you down”.

Variants and etymology
There are many variants of the phrase, such as

. Nil illegitimi carborundum.
. Non illegitimis carborundum.
. Illegitimi nil carborundum.
. Non illegitimi carborundum.
. Nil bastardo carborundum.
. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
. Illegitimis non carborundum.
. Illegitimus non carborundum est.
. Nil illegitimo in desperandum carborundum
. Nil carborundum illegitamae
. Noli ilegitimus carborundum

None of the above is correct Latin. Carborundum is not a Latin word but the name of a mineral which is extremely hard and used for grinding. (See Silicon carbide.) The ending -undum suggests a Latin gerundive form, which is typically used to express the sense of “must be” or (in this case) “must not be”, as in Cato the Elder’s famous speech-ender, “Carthago delenda est” ("Carthage must be destroyed"); however, the word carborundum is actually a portmanteau of “carbon” (from Latin), and “corundum” (from Tamil kurundam).

Illegitimi suggests illegitimate to the English speaker, or bastardo likewise, but the Latin for bastard is actually nothus (from the Greek word notho (νόθο) meaning not-pure, used when referring to a bastard whose father is known) or spurius (for a bastard whose father is unknown).

The phrase has a nonsensical structure—the subject (which is “you") does not appear ("illegitimi" is not the subject - the meaning of the phrase is “YOU must not be ground down by the illegitimate ones")—and the ending would have to agree in gender and number with the subject ("um" is the neuter gender singular ending). Moreover, even if carborundum were a real Latin gerundive and illegitimi a real Latin noun, the gerundive construction would require illegitimi to be in the dative case.

“Nil” or “nihil” is regular Latin for “not at all” or “nothing.” The forms with nil may be formed partly on the pattern of the genuine Latin phrase Nil desperandum.

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, or perhaps they meant ablative – it’s the same form: 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.

A more literal and syntactically correct translation of don’t let the bastards grind you down would be:

“operor retineo non forensis liberi attero vos” in literal english: do not let the not legal children erode you, but “Illegitimi non carborundum” does have a nicer ring to it. Also, “bastards” is commonly used as a generic derogatory term, not at all relating to the status of one’s parents.

Generations of Harvard students have taken the phrase into the world, as it is the first line of an unofficial school song that to some extent is a parody of more solemn school songs like “Fair Harvard thy sons to your Jubilee throng” etc.

Use as a motto
The following entities use the phrase as their motto:

. 3d Space Operations Squadron Weapons & Tactics Flight (USAF)(2004 - 2006)
. The United States submarine USS Tunny (SSN-682)
. The weekly Alaskan newspaper The Nome Nugget
. Whitehorse Daily Star, in the capital of the Yukon Territory
. The Frazier Heli-rappelers in North East Oregon
. University of Idaho Navy ROTC Drill Team
. Portola High School’s Class of 1962.
. Toronto FC Supporters Group, The Red Patch Boys - 75 Mile Bastards Chapter
. Laughing Dog Bicycles, a bike shop in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Henry Beard in his 1991 book Latin for Even More Occasions (chapter I) offered some correct Latin for the sentiment, but did so in a section “Dopey Exhortations Are More Forceful in Latin”, which might be his comment on the merit of the expression.

Never let the bastards wear you down.
Noli nothi permittere te terere.

The “Old Hobart High School” in Tasmania, Australia, also used the motto “Non Illigitimus Carborundum” on the schools’ coat of arms during the 1930’s. The motto was quickly and quietly removed and all knowledge of it denied upon the interpretation of the quote in the early to mid 1980’s.[citation needed]

Other uses
. Nil Carborundum, title of a 1962 play and TV comedy by Henry Livings.
. Nil Carborundum Illegitimo, in Principia Discordia from 1965.
. 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, page 29.
. Illegitimum non carborundum in Ten Thousand Men of Harvard, Harvard’s most-frequently played fight song.
. Nil illegitimo carborundum is a maxim credited to the philosopher Didactylos in his famous ‘Meditations’, in Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods.
. Non Illegitimus Carborundum is the school motto of St. Trinians and appears on the school’s coat of arms.
. Mentioned with translation by the Member of Parliament for Twickenham Toby Jessel in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on 7 June 1993.
. 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.
. Nil carborundum illegitimis is said by Landon Kettlewell in Cory Doctorow’s Makers
. “No Lite te Bastardes Carborundum - sign over the exit door of Irish pub Kieran’s in Minneapolis, MN.
. Illegitimi non carborundum in Fight Song by The Republic Tigers

Wikipedia: Joseph Stilwell
General Joseph Warren Stilwell (March 19, 1883 – October 12, 1946) was a United States Army four-star General best-known for his service in China and Burma. His contempt for formal military dress, his concern for the enlisted man, and his caustic personality would gain him two sobriquets: “Uncle Joe” and “Vinegar Joe.”

Google Books
Transformation
nos. 3-4 - 1944
Pg. 171:
(We have a mock Latin motto which may make our attitude explicit: Nil Bastardo Carborundum, which we translate as, “ Don’t let the bastards grind you down!)

19 May 1945, Racine (WI) Journal-Times, pg. 2, col. 2:
Wreckage of Berlin Avenges
Havoc in Warsaw, Belgrade

(Editor’s note: THis is the 12th installment of the diary of a United Press war correspondent who was captured by the Germans last fall. Today he tells of the wreckage of Berlin, where he was stationed before the war.)
By EDWARD M. BEATTIE, JR.
(...)
Before I left, De Vilmorin and a few others of us founded the Diez club with a motto in mock Latin—“ne illigitimi carborundum”—“don’t let the bastards wear you down.”

Google Books
Quentin Reynolds’ Officially dead:
The story of Commander C.D. Smith

By Quentin James Reynolds
London; Cassell
1946
Pg. 54:
One would call out, “Don’t let the bastards get you down!”

Google Books
Diary of a Kriegie
By Edward William Beattie
New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Company
1946
Pg. 92:
...motto, a pig latin slogan of a certain American armored division which reads “Ne illigitimi carborundum.”

Freely translated, this means, “Don’t let the bastards wear you down.”

6 March 1946, Ogden (UT) Standard-Examiner, pg. 4, col. 6:
New Motto Sent to Truman—
It Uses Rugged Language

By Peter Edson
NEA Service Staff Writer
WASHINGTON, March 6—At the height of White House troubles over Ed Pauley’s appointment and the resignation of Secretary Ickes, Alabama Congressman Frank W. Boykin sent President Truman a new motto. It was an elaborately lettered inscription in four-inch letters on a card measuring about eight inches wide by two feet long. The Latin slogan read, “Illegitimi Non Carborundent.” The typewritten translation which Boykin sent along on a little pink slip of paper read, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Time magazine
National Affairs: Man from Detroit
Monday, Jun. 01, 1953
Last January the Eisenhower Administration dawned with a muttering of thunder which no prophet had foretold. Charles Erwin Wilson, the 62-year-old president of the General Motors Corp., flew into Washington to accept the job as Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, and promptly got into a free-for-all headline row with his colleagues and the U.S. Senate. With a stubbornness new to Washington, Wilson fought the law which unequivocally required that he get rid of his 39,470 shares of General Motors stock before taking office. Cartoonists had a field day with his unruly grey thatch and his round, heavy-jowled face—which, at the time, generally bore an expression of outrage. From a public relations point of view, no U.S. Cabinet officer ever got off to a worse start. When Wilson, under an Eisenhower ultimatum, agreed to dispose of his stock, the Senate confirmed his nomination as the fifth U.S. Secretary of Defense, and the public turned its mind to other things. For Engine Charlie Wilson, however, the story had only begun.

“Nulle Bastardo Carborundum.” Less than half an hour after his brief swearing-in ceremony, Wilson walked with assurance into his vast, flag-draped Pentagon office looking out over the Potomac River. Sitting down behind a walnut desk that once belonged to General “Black Jack” Pershing, he stared around at the pale blue walls and deep blue leather furniture selected by the first Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal. Behind his special, direct-line White House telephone, the man from Detroit propped a framed motto which read, “Nulle Bastardo Carborundum"—assembly-line Latin for “Don’t let the bastards wear you down.” Then, draping a cigarette out of the corner of his mouth, he rang a buzzer twice and an aide, Marine Colonel Carey Randall, appeared in the office doorway. Said Charlie Wilson, looking up over the plastic rims of his glasses: “Let’s get to work.”

Time magazine
Education: Hic, Haec, Hoax
Monday, Aug. 18, 1958
Stumping the backwoods during one of his presidential campaigns, Andrew Jackson decided to impress his bumpkin constituents with his scholarship, let fly in bear-shaped tones with all the Latin he knew: “E pluribus unum, my friends, sine qua non, ne plus ultra, multo in parvo!” Applause resounded for miles; Jackson not only won the election, but also got an honorary LL.D. Or so says Allen Walker Read, associate professor of English at Columbia University, who tucked tongue in cheek and presented choice samples of fractured Latin in an address to the Linguistic Society of America.
(...)
And he records two vivid and poignant modern samples of ravaged Roman: General Stilwell’s World War II motto, “Illegitimati non carborundum [Don’t let the bastards grind you down],’ and Adlai Stevenson’s classic cry of anguish, “Via oviciptum dura est [The way of the egghead is hard].”

Google Books
I Kid You Not
By Jack Paar
Boston, MA: Little, Brown
1960
Pg. 206:
...ancient Roman: Nil carborundum illegitimo. Translated, the Scarsdale lady tells me, this Latin saying means: “Don’t let the bastards wear you down.”

OCLC WorldCat record
Yes, you can beat city hall, or, Don’t let the bastards get you down : a little political primer for John Q. and Sally
Author: John J Murray
Publisher: Oakland, Calif. : Third Party Pub. Co., ©1993.
Edition/Format: Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Don’t let the bastards grind you down
Author: Toasters.
Publisher: S.l : Grover, 1998.
Edition/Format: Audiobook : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Never let the bastards wear you down
Author: Dee Snider
Publisher: New York, NY : Koch Records, 2000.
Edition/Format: Musical CD : Rock music

OCLC WorldCat record
Don’t let the bastards get you down : 101 strategies to laugh your way from repudiation to happiness
Author: Melvin Helitzer
Publisher: Athens, Ohio : University Sports Press ; Ashlans, OH : Distributed by Atlas Books, 2007.
Edition/Format: Book : English : 1st ed

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (3) Comments • Friday, January 22, 2010 • Permalink


A variation was posted in the office of the Nucleus, the ITC newspaper -
Nulles Carborundum Bastardos

Posted by D Waite  on  09/28  at  03:44 PM

Not a lot of people knows Latin anyway. smile As long as everybody knows the “real” meaning of it then it being a motto wouldn’t be a problem.

Posted by Carrie  on  04/27  at  01:34 AM

Also check this for the source of the Latin, another link from the Wikipedia page alas:
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Periods/Roman/Topics/Language/Illegitimi/1.html

Posted by Andy  on  10/23  at  10:36 PM

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