It’s among the many iconic phrases in modern literature—as evidenced by the bevy of females who have actually it scrawled across their body in tattoo form. However what does that mean?

Technically speaking, “Nolite dare bastardes carborundorum”—a phrase uncovered in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale and, more recently, the TV adaptation the was just renewed because that a second season top top Hulu—means nothing. It’s a made-up expression in mock Latin—a schoolboy’s joke, as it’s described in both the novel and also the series. If it were a real phrase, the would about translate to “don’t allow the bastards grind girlfriend down.” exterior the world of the book, the phrase has actually taken ~ above a life the its own, as a sort of feminist rallying cry for women—and also within the book, that inspires Offred to fight back against the repressive powers that be. Yet various creates of the expression actually go ago much additional than Handmaid itself; together Atwood herself said, the motto to be a joke once she was in school, too.

You are watching: Latin don t let the bastards

“I’ll tell girlfriend the weird thing about it,” Atwood called Time magazine around the quote this spring. “It to be a joke in ours Latin classes. For this reason this point from mine childhood is permanently on people’s bodies.”


So, where did the original faux-aphorism come from? Vanity Fair spoke v Michael Fontaine, a classics professor native Cornell University, who took his ideal guess.


To Fontaine, the phrase “nolite car bastardes carborundorum” “looks choose someone do the efforts to placed the English into Google translate for Latin.”


“Nolite” way “don’t” (plural) in Latin, Fontaine created in one e-mail, when “te” means “you.” “Bastardes,” however, is a made-up word with a Latin suffix, and also “carborundorum” is no Latin either.

See more: Which Of The Following Is A Nominal (Temporary) Account? Nominal Account (Rules, Examples, List)


Per Fontaine, “carborundorum” is one English word the originated about 120 year ago; the Oxford English Dictionary, indicates that carborundorum was an industrial product offered as an abrasive. “That’s whereby the idea that ‘getting someone down’ or ‘wearing someone down’ originated,” Fontaine explained to Vanity Fair, adding that the made-up, Latin-sounding name is comparable to commodities like “Nexium” and also “Crestor.” because “carborundorum” looks vaguely favor Latin, it works as one approximation of the real thing—and the word ends in “-ndum,” a suffix that means “is needing come be.” (Think “referendum” together an example.)


Another comparable Latin joke phrase with the same supposed translation is “illegitimi non carborundorum,” i m sorry Fontaine listed was equally fake—though it’s possibly a little more legit as Latin, because it at the very least doesn’t use the made-up “bastardes.”


“Illegitimi is a actual Latin word,” fontain wrote. “It can indeed typical ‘bastards’ (though it’s not the normal word, i beg your pardon is spurius or nothos).”

“My guess is that c. 1890-1900, part American people thought it would be funny come pretend choose ‘carborundum’ was in reality a Latin word definition ‘needing to be worn down’ or (making allowances for ignorance, i beg your pardon is surely part of it) ‘to wear down.’ If the phrase was originally illegitimis non carborundum, then the initial idea was the ‘there need to not it is in a wearing down (of you) by the bastards,’ or in level English, ‘don’t let the bastards obtain you down.’ Either then or soon after, illegitimis would certainly have come to be illegitimi, which changes the grammar, yet most English speaker can’t tell because our grammar doesn’t occupational that way. That would certainly pretty quickly give friend illegitimi no carborundum. QED.”

“The key to the secret is learning (from the O.E.D.) that carborundum to be a profession name,” the continued. “Whatever it was, it’s no in use any more, so we’ve shed all storage of it. Nowadays it just looks favor a strange, damaged Latin word come us.”