It’s one of the most iconic paragraph in modern literature—as evidenced by the bevy of ladies who have it scrawled across their bodies in tattoo form. But what does the mean?

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

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“I’ll tell you the monster thing about it,” Atwood said 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, wherein did the original faux-aphorism come from? Vanity Fair spoke through Michael Fontaine, a standards professor native Cornell University, who took his best guess.


To Fontaine, the expression “nolite te bastardes carborundorum” “looks favor someone do the efforts to put the English into Google translate for Latin.”


“Nolite” means “don’t” (plural) in Latin, Fontaine created in one e-mail, when “te” way “you.” “Bastardes,” however, is a made-up word v a Latin suffix, and “carborundorum” is not Latin either.

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


Another similar Latin joke expression with the same an alleged translation is “illegitimi no carborundorum,” which Fontaine listed was equally fake—though it’s maybe a little an ext legit together Latin, due to the fact that it at least doesn’t use the made-up “bastardes.”


“Illegitimi is a real Latin word,” fontaine wrote. “It can indeed median ‘bastards’ (though it’s no the normal word, i m sorry is spurius or nothos).”

“My assumption: v is the c. 1890-1900, some American world thought it would be funny to pretend prefer ‘carborundum’ was actually a Latin word definition ‘needing to be worn down’ or (making allowances for ignorance, which is surely component of it) ‘to undertake down.’ If the expression was originally illegitimis no carborundum, then the initial idea was the ‘there have to not be a wearing down (of you) by the bastards,’ or in level English, ‘don’t allow the bastards obtain you down.’ Either climate or soon after, illegitimis would certainly have come to be illegitimi, which transforms the grammar, however most English speaker can’t tell because our grammar doesn’t job-related that way. That would pretty quickly give girlfriend illegitimi non carborundum. QED.”

“The an essential to the mystery is discovering (from the O.E.D.) the carborundum was a profession name,” he continued. “Whatever that was, it’s not in use any type of more, for this reason we’ve shed all storage of it. Recently it simply looks favor a strange, broken Latin word come us.”