|Photo courtesy of Cara Koscinski|
Now cum is an interesting word. Latin, of course, a preposition meaning "with." It begins the aphorism cum grano salis—"with a grain of salt"—a note of skepticism going back to ancient Rome, when soldiers' pay was connected to the common mineral ("salary" derives from the Latin salarium, the money soldiers were paid to buy salt).
We see it particularly this time of year, on diplomas flashed at graduations. There is cum laude, "with praise," magna cum laude, "with great praise" and the utmost, summa cum laude, or "with greatest praise."
You and I know this because we're human beings in a literate society. We pick things up.
But the cake-decoration system at the Publix supermarket in Charleston, South Carolina is not human, and does not know this. It's a computer, programmed to weed out surprisingly frequent attempts to render profanity into icing. (Sigh. There is a non-Latin, sexual meaning to the Latin term which, if you don't know, I'm not going to explain. Ask around).
Charleston mom Cara Koscinski ordered a cake from her local Publix supermarket to honor her son Jacob, graduating from a Christian home schooling program.
Ordering online, she designated it was a graduation cake, which automatically conjured up mortarboard and scroll ornaments. Then she plugged in "Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude Class of 2018."
Up popped a red warning: "Profane/special characters not allowed."
As is common with automatic systems, there was an out, a place for "Special Instructions," where Koscinski explained that, as opposed to its center syllable standing alone, "summa cum laude" is not in fact profane.
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