'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4 Finale: 'Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum' Explained

This article contains spoilers from season 4 of The Handmaid's Tale.

After the bittersweet moments of The Handmaid's Tale season finale, viewers will have seen a familiar message scrawled across the screen — "nolite te bastardes carborundorum."

Readers of Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale, and fans who've watched since season 1, will recognize the phrase. It has added significance considering the circumstance in which it featured in the season finale.

What does nolite te bastardes carborundorum mean?

At the end of season 4, Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) has been lynched and his body hangs over a phrase written across the wall. It says "nolite te bastardes carborundorum."

In reality, and also in the series, it's explained that it is a made-up phrase in mock Latin. It directly translates to "don't let the bastards grind you down."

What is the significance of the phrase within The Handmaid's Tale?

Since the phrase will forever be linked to Fred's death, it's come full circle within the story.

Joseph Fiennes as Fred Waterford
Joseph Fiennes as Fred Waterford in season 4, episode 10 of The Handmaid's Tale. Hulu

In the television series, we first encounter the phrase in season 1 episode 4 when June (Elisabeth Moss), at this time Offred, is banished to her room, she sees the words "nolite te bastardes carborundorum" etched into the wall. The phrase is also the title of the episode. Later on Offred and Fred are playing a game of Scrabble where Offred asks him if he can translate what she assumes to be a Latin phrase. He explains to her that it means "don't let the bastards grind you down."

Within Atwood's book, the phrase represents a lot to June while she's living with the Waterfords as their handmaid. After seeing it scratched into the floor, the phrase takes on religious connotations for June, who doesn't know its meaning yet. On page 133 of The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood writes from June's perspective: "I pray silently: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. I don't know what it means, but it sounds right, and it will have to do, because I don't know what else I can say to God."

Later on in the book, as in the TV series, Fred explains the meaning of the phrase to June. Revealing the words which are also written by hand in the margin of one of his Latin dictionaries, Fred tells June: "It meant, 'Don't let the bastards grind you down.' I guess we thought we were pretty smart, back then."

The fact that Fred was the one to reveal the true meaning of the phrase, to June and the audience, adds extra significance to it reemerging at the time of his death.

The phrase has been used in real life

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" has been adapted as a phrase by viewers of the show into real life. Many women have had the words tattooed onto their bodies and it's also available on pieces of jewelry.

This real-world adaption is something that amuses Atwood. She told Time in 2017: "I'll tell you the weird thing about it, it was a joke in our Latin classes. So this thing from my childhood is permanently on people's bodies."

Season 4 of The Handmaid's Tale is available to watch on Hulu now.

Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne
Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne in season 4 episode 10 of The Handmaid's Tale. Hulu