'Hadrian's Travels': The Ultimate Bastard!

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'Hadrian's Travels': The Ultimate Bastard!

Postby Aldus Marius on Thu Aug 25, 2005 11:34 am

Salvete omnes,

I got this inquiry from Holly Camerota, a fellow LATIN-L Lister who also makes Latin-phrase T-shirts--really nice ones!--called "TogaTees". Seems she had an idea for a new shirt...


> A quick question: have you ever heard of the "Latin" phrase, Illegitimi non carborundum?


So I said...the most about Latin grammer that I ever have in my entire Roman life. My Latin is better some weeks than others; and it was smokin' that week. This was before my brain went nova, of course. I'll never be this together again.

Persons of Inquisitorial disposition (whether or not you are actually Inquisitors), I ask that you please read the whole thing before jumping me. Mistakes in the first message are corrected in the second. Anything that remains is fair game. Or you could do something positive and come up with a better way to say "Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down"!

[Ed. Note: This is where we learn never to ask Marius a 'quick' question! <g>]

On with the reply...


Unfortunately yes. Like anybody Latinate in this country, I have been unable to escape the phrase--all my friends and family parrot this at me in brave but futile displays of solidarity with my somewhat unusual interests.

I first encountered the darn thing on a college counselor's wall; that time it was a variant, Nolite te basturdum carborundorum, which is even more gawd-awful than the first version. (nolite te?...ugh.) I had only been teaching myself Latin for a few months, yet even I could identify it as ungrammatical, though aside from wondering where the verb was, I could not have told you why...

Still, I mistook it for a horrendously-munched attempt at real Latin. So I went home and looked it up: Nolite could stand by itself (it didn't need the extra "te"); basturdum didn't exist, which is why, if I had to choose, I like illegitimi better; as for carborundum/carborundorum, that wasn't a word either (and if it had been, it would have been a noun). I ended up having to ask the counselor (a la Life of Brian), "What's that say, then?"...[insert her reply]..."No, it doesn't!!" (Unlike the Centurion in the movie, however, I refrained from correcting her at swordpoint. <feg>)

I've since seen several similar pseudo-Latin military mottoes, mostly from Korean- and Vietnam-era outfits. I wonder if our culprit could be one of these... My favorite has to be Non gratum anus rodentum--which everyone knows doesn't mean, "I don't give a rat's behind!" (This was doubly-appropriate because it belonged to an aircraft-maintenance squadron; maintenance crew chiefs are also known as "ramp rats"). The funny thing about those mottoes was, everyone knew they weren't Latin; they weren't meant to be or trying to be Latin; they were intentionally pseudo-Latin, keeping only the sound and the form of the language (the better to defeat pomposity in the high command). That's what made them fun.

So what do we do with our puppy? Mind you, I would deem it a despicable act of appeasement for you to put out a tee with the motto as usually quoted! But surely we can come up with a grammatically-correct yet recognizeable expression of the same sentiment... (That's if you can't get folks to settle for Virtus Probata Florescit ['Grace Under Pressure'], which you have in stock and which kind of says the same thing more positively... after all, who's supplying the pressure?

Hmm... Nolite can stay. Illegitimus, -i is a logical coinage from and counterpart to legitimus, -i; besides, it's the one part most people will be able to glom onto at first glance. So we have "Don't" and "the bastards..." ready-made. Nolite by itself just means "(You guys) don't..." as a command. (Singular would be Nolo....) Either version needs an infinitive verb to make its day complete, so we still need a "...let..." for (You guys) not to do.

-- permittere: to allow, permit, concede, sacrifice
-- concedere: to pardon, grant, permit, allow, concede
-- licere: to be allowed, to be able to (in the sense of having permission)
-- sinere: to let, allow, permit
-- pati: to suffer, permit, allow, endure (whence 'patience' and 'passion', in the sense of suffering)

Now, what about 'get you down'? Several Latin verbs suggest themselves:

-- conterere (3d): to rub away, grind, or wear down
-- opprimere (3d): to press down upon, burden, oppress, weigh down (I get weary just reading the definition); Henry Beard used this one as the verb in 'Please don't squeeze the Charmin' (Latin for All Occasions).
-- vexare (1st): to harrass, annoy, molest (if you don't think the bastards' effect is severe enough to qualify as 'oppression')
-- gravare (1st): to load or weigh down

Well, we still need a 'you' for the bastards to get. If it was just "The bastards get you down", it'd be Illegitimi te oprimunt or ...vos oprimunt if they're doing it to your whole workgroup. But the idea is not to ALLOW them TO get you down, so whatever verb we pick for 'getting...down' will also be an infinitive; and 'you'--as the indirect (I think...) object of something that ain't a-gonna happen--get to be in the dative case: tibi or vobis. (If I'm wrong, you'll be accusative instead: te or vos. So maybe the guy who put that extra 'te' in my sample wasn't so far off-base!)

...OK, so here are the elements, with some suggested constructions; we can play around with word order in a little bit:

-- Nolo/Nolite permittere illegitimis tibi opprimere
.... Imper. ........ inf. .......... dat. .. dat. .. inf.

-- Nolo/Nolite permittere illegitimis ut tibi opprimant
.... Imper. ........ inf. .......... dat. ..-ut- dat. .subjunc.

-- Nolo/Nolite permittere illegitimos tibi opprimere
.... Imper. ........ inf. .......... acc. .. dat. .. inf.

["Nolo/Nolite permittere illegitimis tibi opprimere" vel simile best preserves the English word-order. Feel free to rotate the li'l mud-puppies if something else sounds more euphonious.]

Accenting: NO-li-te per-MIT-te-re il-le-GI-ti-mis TI-bi op-PRI-me-re. (...ut TI-bi op-PRI-mant) ... Sounds like my mom really putting her foot down!!

What do you think? (Maybe next time you can ask me a "slow" question; you'll probably get a shorter reply!!)

--Marius (Daggone Roman)


She Liked It!!! >({|:-D


> I DO believe we could make that the official Latin for the sentiment!


Cool! Just a note here (really!)...we'd need to decide whether 'you' singular or 'you guys' plural are being addressed; the whole sentence is a command, but the noli/nolite and tibi/vobis parts will change according to how many people are being asked to ignore bastardic oppression. So it'll be either

Noli permittere illegitimos tibi opprimere <--(not 'nolo' like I thought)
- or -
Nolite permittere illegitimos vobis opprimere.

We'll also want to be more certain about that direct/indirect object business towards the end.


So there it is. A few loose ends, maybe; but otherwise, the Definitive Latin Version of "Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down". Now playing on a TogaTee or bumper sticker near you!

In amicitia et fide,
Aldus Marius Peregrinus.
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