Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Is your friend telling you how they are working really hard on a project right now and feel they don’t get recognition from their boss? If so, you could give them some encouragement by saying, “don’t let the bastards grind you down. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “don’t let the bastards get you down” is an empathetic response to someone that tells you they are dealing with a lot of pressure at work or home.

For instance, your friend is complaining about how their boss is riding them with overtime at work but not paying him for the extra time. You could use the expression when you get up to leave and want to tell them that you know how they feel and hope they overcome the issues they face in life.

Example Usage

“Wow, Jim, you’ve been working the late shift every day this week. Are you sure you’re okay? Don’t let the bastards grind you down, man.”

“It’s okay, honey; I understand the boss needs you to work overtime again. We’ll change the reservations for tomorrow instead. Don’t let the bastards grind you down over there, okay?”

“Those people are real salves drivers. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. We’ll talk about it with the union representative.”

“The taxman keeps increasing their cut of our wages, but don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

“The government is running the country into the ground. We’ve just got o keep moving on. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down. We’ll be done with this project soon, and then we all get a nice break from this hellscape.”


The origin of the expression "don't let the bastards get you down" comes from the cod Latin, "nil carborundum illegitimi." General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell used the expression as his personal motto during WWII.

Language experts think that the expression dates back as far as the 17th century. The earliest reference to a similar phrase forming the base for the modern term comes from Joseph Moxon's "Mechanick Exercises," published in 1677, where the saying appears as follows.

"The Bastard-tooth'd file is to take out of your work, the deep cuts ... the Rough-file made; the Fine-tooth'd file is to take out the cuts ... the Bastard-file made."

Phrases Similar

  • Don’t let the man get you down.
  • Don’t let the world bring you down.
  • Don’t let it get to you.

Opposite Phrases

  • Give in and submit.
  • Why bother.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Ways People May Say It Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with someone acting physical harm on another person. Using it to describe mental torture is also the improper use of the saying. "Don't let the bastards grind you down" refers to someone taking strain at their work or their personal life where another person is responsible for their suffering.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase It

You can use the phrase "don't let the bastards grind you down" in various situations. Typically, you'll be using the expression to show empathy with someone you know. The phrase suits social and professional use.

For instance, you could say it to a friend that tells you they have to miss tonight's baseball game because they have to work. Or you could use it when talking to your teammates when you're losing in the game and you want to lift their spirits.

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