Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches”
— Margaret Atwood; The Haidmaid’s Tale.

(broken Latin, meaning ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’)

Many will recognise this quote from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (and the subsequent – and epic – Hulu adaptation for the small screen). But where does this ‘fake’ Latin phrase originate? Michael Fontaine, a classics professor from Cornell University; and this blog’s author, Ryan Vandeput, an English Literature Masters Graduate from the University of Leicester, took their best guesses.

“It was likely an old school joke, for those who took Latin class. It’s not really ‘true’ Latin; rather, it sounds like something a school pupil made up for fun. It might even be something Margaret Atwood remembers from her schooling & childhood” surmised Vandeput. Another similar Latin joke phrase with the same supposed translation is “illegitimi non carborundorum,” which Fontaine noted was equally fake—though it’s perhaps a little more legit as Latin, since it at least doesn’t use the made-up “bastardes.”

“Illegitimi is a real Latin word,” Fontaine continues. “It could indeed mean ‘bastards’ (though it’s not the usual word, which is spurius or nothos).”

“My guess is that c. 1890-1900, some American people thought it would be funny to pretend like ‘carborundum’ was actually a Latin word meaning ‘needing to be worn down’ or (making allowances for ignorance, which is surely part of it) ‘to wear down.’ If the phrase was originally illegitimis non carborundum, then the original idea was that ‘there must not be a wearing down (of you) by the bastards,’ or in plain English, ‘don’t let the bastards get you down.’ Either then or soon after, illegitimis would have become illegitimi, which changes the grammar, but most English speakers can’t tell because our grammar doesn’t work that way. That would pretty quickly give you illegitimi non carborundum”

“The key to the mystery is knowing that carborundum was a trade name (for an abrasive scrubbing powder used for cleaning),” he continued. “Whatever it was, it’s not in use any more, so we’ve lost all memory of it. Nowadays it just looks like a strange, broken Latin word to us,” Fontaine concluded.

— Ryan Vandeput, 2018

Loss

‘And loss, strangely, can attune you to what is beautiful about existence, even as it wounds you with what is awful.’ — Ryan Vandeput

‘I thought that love could last forever. I was wrong.’ — W. H. Auden

TEASER! I’m working on a small English-language children’s book, age 5 and up, which will also be bilingual and translated to Welsh. The book will be heavily illustrated throughout and will feature subtle lessons and messages for children and adults alike. Quite an exciting for me, as my storytelling has always been adult fiction or poetry in the past. I also really need to work hard on my illustration abilities well enough to please a special 5 year old little dude – I must get the character absolutely right, or prepare for epic fail and disappointment! Due out this October, the photo is just a little taster, with very little clues…

I absolutely adore these photographs! But then, I love dogs, cats & children. Yet cats are not alway seen in the most favourable ways. Maybe until now, that is…

They may sometimes be portrayed as moody and anti-social. LiLu Blue Royal Lada is anything but. Lilu is an adorable feline who loves her cute and cuddly four-year old human friend Katherine. The duo have been inseparable since Katherine’s birth. Fortunately, Katherine’s father, photographer Andy Prokh, has captured their wonderful moments together.

I Keep My Snowman in the Freezer

I keep my snowman in the freezer
Just behind the pies
He likes it there, he told me so
I can see it in his eyes.
I made him on a cold, cold morning
When the snow was fresh and deep
Now he sits in the freezer
Near the fish that we got cheap.

I keep my snowman in the freezer
And look at him each day.
If I’d left him in the garden
He’d simply have melted away.

But now he’s like my Grandma
Living somewhere safe and nice;
He’s in a frosty, snowy palace
On a throne of coldest ice.

I keep my snowman in the freezer
Near a lump of frozen beef
And I’ve got a treat for him in August:
I’m taking him to Tenerife!

© Ian McMillian

CHRISTMAS CARDS

Slip through the letter box with messages:
Some bland, some more intense, some aching with
Bereavements, wives abandoned, loss of jobs.
The annual contact on a patient card.
‘See you next year’ some say and quite forget
Before the ink is dry. A plaster patch
That leaves no sticky mark on minor wounds
However much the cover faces please
With coloured art or kitsch or nearly art.
One threatens every time in wiry script
‘This is the last card I shall send. I am
Too old now’. Still it slides into my hand.
And there is one that comes anonymous,
Unsigned, the postmark adds its mystery,
A smudge, a ghost behind this paper mask?
Perhaps there’ll be a few to tuck away
After the show, in an old envelope,
Fingered at times because the sender once
Carved hope into a fraction of your years;
Or others will imply ‘I am still here’ –
A comma on your page a life ago.