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"Nulle Bastardo Carborundum"

Posted by GPP on July 30, 2003

In Reply to: Re: 'Lat*n' me this: "Don't let the bastards wear you down" posted by James Briggs on July 26, 2003

: : I see that in early 2000 there was some discussion of a 'Latinization' of the phrase "Don't let the bastards wear (or 'grind'?--I've never heard that in the U.S.) you down". My own first awareness of this question dates from back around June 1953, if I recall correctly, when Time ran a cover story on Charles E "Engine Charlie" Wilson, and mentioned that he kept a sign on his desk in fractured Lat*n, "[something] [something] Bastardi Carborundum". I've since seen several bastardizations and rip-offs of this expression, in Lat*n that's more ignorant than fractured (including the "Illegitimatum Uncarborundum" under discussion in 2000). Is it now too soon to ask again whether anyone might know the original phrase from that source, or possibly an earlier one? One of the words must have been 'Non', or something else to denote negation. The joke, of course, is using the brand name Carborundum to signify "to wear down". If I were less unwilling to pay for Time's archive search I suppose I could look it up myself, but what the hey?

: In the mid 1940s when I was 11 and started at Grammar School (UK Version) I learnt the expression as 'Nil Illegitimo Carborundum'. This was the way it was used in the RAF in the 1950s and, I believe, is still current in the UK. I always understood it to be made-up La*in, with no basis in scholarship.

Here's that reference, from Time, June 1, 1953, p.16: "Behind his special direct-line White House telephone [Charles E. Wilson] propped a framed motto which read "Nulle Bastardo Carborundum"--assembly-line La*in for "Don't let the bastards wear you down."

I've long since forgotten all my cases and tenses, and have no idea whether these endings are any less nonsensical than the other forms given, but 'nulle' sounds more likely to me than 'nil'. However, while 'bastard' is indeed taken directly from the Fr*nch (where the '^' represents the silent 's'), its origin is given by Partridge as 'Primitive Germanic' rather than La*in--so in that sense, as well, it is a bastardization (illegitimacy).