The First Blush

“We’re so distracted by how things end, we usually forget how beautiful the beginning was.”

— Ryan Vandeput

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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

Pride Season: The Unsent Letter – Man In An Orange Shirt

A most heartfelt letter written, but never sent. The tender letter from Thomas to his lover Michael, written in around 1957. Taken from the brilliant ‘Man In An Orange Shirt’, this is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful yet tragic love stories I’ve ever seen on TV and encapsulates an era of forbidden love. A love that dare not speak (or write) it’s name for fear of imprisonment. It would be another decade before the law on prohibiting homosexual relationships would be repealed, at least in the United Kingdom.

“The love I feel for you runs through me like grain through wood.”

Think about that for a minute.

If you haven’t seen the BBC adaptation of Man In An Orange Shirt, it’s available on BBC iPlayer for the next couple of weeks.

The Unsent Letter:

My Darling Thomas,

I'm at work. Nobody knows I'm writing to you here. They think I’m drafting a long and stupefying memorandum about incremental shifts in the price of Welsh coal since the end of the war for the ladies in the typing pool to type up later.

You refuse my visits so you're probably tearing up my letters too but there's nothing else I can do but keep trying. It's beyond my control, do you see?

All those months ago, when I had nothing to lose really, I wrote to you in my head but was too cowardly to set more than lies upon paper. And now I find I no longer care. The love I feel for you runs through me like grain through wood. I love you, Thomas. Your face, your voice, your touch, enter my mind at the least opportune moments and I find I have no power to withstand them. No desire to.

I want us to be together as we were in the cottage. Only for ever, not just a weekend. I want it to go on so long that it feels normal. I think of you constantly. Your face, your breath on my neck at night. I want to do all the ordinary, un-bedroomy things we never got around to doing. Making toast. Raking leaves. Sitting in silence.

I love you, Thomas.
I’ve always loved you.
I see that now.
Tell me I'm not too late.

Michael

***

Everything in this image has been created from scratch by The Vandeput Design Co. and is copyright…

© 2017, Ryan Vandeput. Without exception, you may not use this image for any purpose in whole or part without licence from The Vandeput Design Co. Email ryan@ryanvandeput.com to request permissions.

You are loved.

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“Life is short. I often find myself lost in thought about those little, sometimes unnoticed, but very special moments in life. These moments are often fleeting, are buried in the minutiae of life, and yet they sparkle with the piercing iridescence of tiny stars on a sky of black velvet. There is still beauty in everything. Even in darkness.”
— Ryan Vandeput