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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

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    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 '17 at 17:12
  • 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 says reinstate Monica Jun 20 '17 at 8:05
  • Does “Ne spurios permittere atterere te” work? – Graham Davies Oct 24 '19 at 20:43
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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 C. M. Weimer 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).

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    Despite the up-votes, this does not answer my request for a translation. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jun 18 '17 at 19:19
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    Sorry, I thought you were asking tongue-in-cheek. I've added to my answer in response to your criticism. – Tom Cotton Jun 19 '17 at 14:00
  • I very much like the defiance in the echos of "wha daur meddle wi' me?" (+1) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jun 20 '17 at 8:08
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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").

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  • 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 '17 at 13:19
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    Shouldn't nothi / spurii be in the accusative, in Harry Beard's version? – brianpck Jun 18 '17 at 17:53
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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 '17 at 17:54
  • @brianpck Yep, I don't know if the typo was Beard's or the website's, though. I corrected that. I also committed a typo of my own, as his name is Henry, not Harry. – C. M. Weimer Jun 18 '17 at 19:45

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