Where Did The Phrase First Appear?
“Nolite Te Bastardes Carburondorum” first appeared in the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which was published in 1985. In 2017, Hulu released the first season of the show, which covers the entirety of the events depicted in the novel. The phrase appears in episode four – named “Nolite Te Bastardes Carburondorum”.
In the episode, June (or Offred) is locked up in her room as punishment for not getting pregnant. See, handmaids are forced to have sex with their masters (in June’s case, the “Commander”) in order to bear children for them and their wives. During her solitary confinement, she discovers the phrase etched into a closet wall.
In a tense private meeting with the Commander later that night – figuring he knows Latin – she asks him for a translation.
What Does It Mean And How Is It Pronounced?
The novel explains that when translated from Latin to English, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carburondorum” roughly translates to “don’t let the bastards grind you down”. In the Handmaid’s Tale episode, June’s pronunciation of the phrase sounds like “no-lee-tey teh bas-tar-dehs car-bor-un-door-room”.
Is It A Real Saying?
Upon deeper analysis, the Commander brushes it off as a made-up saying – something bored schoolboys must have invented during their Latin lessons. And as it turns out, this tidbit isn’t entirely fiction! In an interview with Time Magazine, Margaret Atwood explains that the phrase was “a joke in our Latin classes”.
June, in her darkest moment, finds strength in the phrase. She realises that the phrase was scratched in by the household’s previous handmaiden, who killed herself because she felt that life in those conditions had become “unbearable”. She suspects it the phrase must be a warning of some sort: don’t let the bastards grind you down.
The episode ends with a powerful monologue by June: “there was an Offred before me, she helped me find my way out. She’s dead. She’s alive. She is me. We are handmaids. Nolite Te Bastardes Carburondorum, bitches”.
The Handmaid’s Tale’s Significance Today
Since the show aired in 2017, the phrase’s popularity skyrocketed. It became a kind of rallying cry among feminists who want to remind themselves and other women to keep fighting in the face of misogyny and oppression.
The Handmaid’s Tale became a massive cultural force over the past couple of years due to its chillingly relevant subject matter. It’s supposed to be set in a dystopian near future, however, it’s incredibly easy to find parallels between the show and today’s events.
The Significance Of The Handmaid’s Costume
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the U.S. government slowly revoked women’s rights, transferring control of their bodies to men. These days, there is an increasing number of conservative politicians worldwide working towards banning abortions or refusing to consider the issue altogether – effectively stripping women of their bodily autonomy. Even celebrities like Pink have said that the abortion bans happening in the U.S. felt like a scene straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale!
In response to this, women have donned the red cloak and white bonnet costume of handmaids during protests.
In an interview with the Guardian, Atwood said, “The handmaid’s costume has been adopted by women in many countries as a symbol of protest about various issues having to do with the requisitioning of women’s bodies by the state”.
“In countries that prohibit birth control and reproductive health information, the state claims ownership of women’s bodies through enforced childbearing”, she added. “What the costume is really asking viewers is: do we want to live in a slave state?”
“Nolite Te Bastardes Carburondorum” — A Feminist Rallying Cry
Today, you’ll find feminist women (and even some male allies) proudly sporting the phrase on shirts, mugs, and even tattoos. Though the phrase has been around since the 80s, the Hulu show brought it back into the public sphere, turning it into a badass reminder to fight against oppressive forces.
Are There Other Great Handmaid’s Tale Quotes
Margaret Atwood came up with a lot of really quotable quotes in her novel. Here are a few of our faves from both Atwood and the show, from the most heartbreaking ones to the outright funny ones:
- “Someone once said that men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
- “I am not your justification for existence.”
- “I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.”
- “The world can be quite an ugly place. But we cannot wish that ugliness away. We cannot hide from that ugliness.”
- “How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.”
- "Never mistake a woman’s meekness for weakness."
- "There is something reassuring about the toilets. Bodily functions at least remain democratic. Everybody shits, as Moira would say."
- “Blessed be the Fruit Loops.”