The intertubes are awash with grammatically incorrect "translations" of the phrase "don't let the bastards grind you down" (please pardon my French :-)

Can someone please provide a correct and definitive (canonical) translation?

[Update] Chaps, I am not interested in modern "origins". I only ask for a pure Latin translation

  • 5
    I believe the point of explaining modern origins is to challenge the premise of your question, which assumes there is a "definitive/canonical translation." A good translation =/= a canonical translation.
    – brianpck
    Jun 19, 2017 at 17:12
  • 1
    Then (plus one), I will settle for a good - grammatically correct - translation. It need not be word for word, so long as it conveys the meaning.
    – Mawg
    Jun 20, 2017 at 8:05
  • Does “Ne spurios permittere atterere te” work? Oct 24, 2019 at 20:43
  • @GrahamDavies It does not quite work. Change permittere to permitte or permittas, then it will work.
    – Figulus
    Jan 23, 2023 at 3:22

3 Answers 3


This originated in the British Armed Forces, whose lower ranks have for many, many years used, as a kind of humorous but informal motto, the phrase NIL ILLEGITIMI CARBORUNDUM, which of course is not proper Latin at all but is universally understood to mean exactly 'don't let the bastards grind you down'. Sometimes, to be more polite, it is shortened — NIL CARBORUNDUM — 'don't let them grind you down'.

You ask for a 'correct and definitive (canonical) translation', and cmw has shown how to provide what you wish for — if you really need to call them 'bastards'. If, however, you want to draw attention to the moral character of these people, I suggest that you need something a bit stronger than nothus or spurius : something to indicate a bullying nature directly, rather than by metonymy.

Cicero (Fam. 7, 13) has, for instance, homo procax in lacessendo, which for me solves the problem nicely, with procax to describe the character and lacesso the verb for harrying, irritating, exasperating, harassing, etc.(earlier at the same reference he uses molestiam afferre). I rather like Ne [homines] procaces te impune lacessant, with its echo of nemo me impune lacessit, the motto of the British Stuart dynasty, the Order of the Thistle, and of The Black Watch (among other Scottish regiments).

  • I very much like the defiance in the echos of "wha daur meddle wi' me?" (+1)
    – Mawg
    Jun 20, 2017 at 8:08

There can't be a "definitive" translation, because the pseudo-Latin precedes the popularity of the English. That second link you offer is actually good. Henry Beard offers Noli nothi permittere te terere.

Personally, I could see a few tweaks. Instead of nothi, I'd subsitute it with spurios (needs the accusative). Also, te terere sounds clumsy; I'd be tempted to use attere instead.

Alternatively, to be less literal, I'd opt for: Ne terant te spurii. Typically for "let not" Latin employs ne + the subjunctive. Compare that with e.g. Cicero's De Legibus 2.16.41, donis impii ne placare audeant deos ("let not the wicked dare [to try] to appease the gods with gifts").

  • 2
    Once again I feel compelled to express such mottoes in verse. Here's a pentameter verse: Ne te perturbent neve terant spurii. Depending on broader context, one should add a hexameter verse to complete the elegiac couplet and maybe change the first verb in my suggestion.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 18, 2017 at 13:19
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    Also, it's worth noting that Beard's version is beautifully alliterative. It sounds really cool when spoken aloud.
    – brianpck
    Jun 18, 2017 at 17:54

cmw's Ne terant te spurii seems excellent to me.

As a general thought, ne + conj. pf. is often an elegant solution for the so-called negative imperative: Ne te triverint spurii, e.g.

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