Illegitimi non carborundum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism meaning "Don't let the bastards grind you down". Carborundum, also known as silicon carbide, is an industrial abrasive material, but its name resembles a Latin gerundive.

The phrase originated during World War II and is attributed to British army intelligence. It was a motto of US Army general "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell and was further popularized in the US by 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. It is also the first line of the Harvard fight song Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.

There are a number of versions for the phrase referenced in popular culture.



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.[1] It was later further popularized in the US by 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.[2]

Generations of Harvard students have taken the phrase into the world, as it is the first line of an unofficial school song Ten Thousand Men of Harvard, the most frequently played Fight song of the Harvard Marching Band. This 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!


There are many variants of the phrase, such as

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 'the bastard' in Latin is spurius[3] (another Latin word for bastard is nothus, but it is very uncommon.[4] The two most common variations translate as follows: illegitimi non carborundum = the unlawful are not carbon silicate, illegitimis non carborundum = the unlawful don't have carbon silicate.

"Bastards" is often used in English as a generic derogatory term, not necessarily relating to the marital status of one's parents.[5]

Use as a motto

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ Why Do We Say ...?, Nigel Rees, 1987, ISBN 0-7137-1944-3
  2. ^ Illegitimi Non Carborundum page[dead link], at Santa Cruz Public Libraries ready reference, quoting William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary
  3. ^
  4. ^ Chambers Murray Latin Dictionary, page 468
  5. ^ See the discussion in Hugh Rawson, Wicked Words (New York: Crown, 1989), pp. 36f
  6. ^ Nil Carborundum (TV 1962) – IMDb
  7. ^ Cory Doctorow. "Makers". Tor Books. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
  8. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 7 Jun 1993". Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Terry Roberts (20th February 2009). "Williams hopes Harper takes a few tips from Obama". Retrieved 2010-04-15.

External links