The Latin Word for “With”

Tim Furnish comments: “This, dear readers, is why young people should take Latin.”

Publix supermarket in South Carolina censors high school graduate’s ‘Summa Cum Laude’ cake

Well, we’re guessing the folks at this particular Publix supermarket didn’t graduate summa cum laude.

The story starts with a proud mom ordering a cake online for her son’s graduation party. On it she wanted the words “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude Class of 2018.”

But then she found that the software at the Publix near their home in West Ashley, S.C., refused to include the word “Cum” in the decoration on top of the cake because it considered it to be profane.

Undaunted, Cara Koscinski used a special-instructions box to explain that the offending word was part of a Latin phrase for academic honors and meant “with” (laude translates as “honors” or “distinction” and summa as “highest”), according to a report by local TV station WCIV. She even included a link to a website explaining the meaning, reported the Washington Post.

And so the box containing a frosted sheet cake arrived for the Saturday celebration of Jacob Koscinski’s 4.89 grade point average and admission to a pre-med program at college.

“And when we opened it, it was a huge shock to all of us,” Cara Koscinski told the station.

Yes, instead of the word “Cum,” there were three hyphens. ‘‘Congrats Jacob! Summa – – – Laude Class of 2018.’’

“The cake experience was kind of frustrating and humiliating because I had to explain to my friends and family, like, what that meant. And they were giggling uncontrollably. At least my friends were,” said Jacob Koscinski, 18.

I suppose that, technically, Publix is in the right here – as long as “highest” and “honor” are in the ablative, the preposition “with” can be understood. But “Summa Cum Laude” is a pretty standard expression, and I agree with Mrs. Koscinski: “I can’t believe I’m the first one to ever write ‘Summa Cum Laude’ on a cake.”

It’s always depressing to see the triumph of ignorance, like the author whose work featured a “fireman” (i.e., someone responsible for shoveling coal into a boiler on a steam ship), and which was changed to “fire fighter” upon publication, because we don’t want to be sexist. Maybe not, but “fire fighter” is precisely the opposite of what that sort of fireman was about. (I can’t remember where I read this, but I insist it’s true.)

Bernard Lewis, 1916-2018

From the Jerusalem Post (via Tim Furnish):

Bernard Lewis, scholar and the “West’s leading interpreter of the Middle East,” died Sunday at the age of 101.

Lewis was a leading scholar on Oriental and Middle Eastern studies. His study of antisemitism, Semites and Anti-Semites, was a cry against Soviet and Arab attempts to delegitimize Israel. In other works, he argued Arab rage against Israel was disproportionate to other tragedies or injustices in the Muslim world.

Though a champion for Israel, Lewis was an often controversial figure, on this subject and others. He was accused of being a “genocide denier” for his views on the Armenian genocide. His support of the Iraq War has also brought criticism.

Born to Jewish parents in London, UK, Lewis was educated in the University of London, primarily at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), as well as studying at the University of Paris. Lewis’s Ph.D. was in the History of Islam.

In a teaching career spanning nearly 50 years, Lewis was first appointed as an assistant lecturer in Islamic History at SOAS in 1938. During the Second World War, from 1940-1941, he served in the British Army’s Royal Armored Corps and Intelligence Corps. He returned to SOAS in 1949.

After a long career in academia, Lewis retired from Princeton in 1986 after 12 years as a teacher, and taught at Cornell University until 1990.


Currently teaching my history of Ireland course in preparation for a study-abroad trip there next week. Participating in one of these has been a long-term goal of mine ever since I came to Reinhardt fourteen years ago, but something has always intervened, so I am very much looking forward to this one. Thanks to star organizer Cheryl Brown and EF Tours, we will be visiting the Dingle Peninsula, the Rock of Cashel, Dublin, Newgrange, Derry, and Belfast. Of course, as with my trip to the Middle East in October, this will likely mean a paucity of blog posts for the duration (5/24-6/9), but I should have some good material to write about upon my return.


I enjoyed the 53rd annual International Congress on Medieval Studies, held this past weekend on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I have been attending this conference since 1995; this one was my fifteenth. It was great to see old friends and make new ones. Some highlights:

• The state of Michigan, it seems, has been willing to invest in WMU – or at least the place attracts enough students that it can do good things with all the revenue generated. The dorms have been given a makeover, and there was a new one that conference attendees could stay in for some extra consideration. There is also a massive new dining building, and the pond has been extended and has a new bridge across it (although there were no swans this year, to my chagrin).

• Enjoyed a lovely dinner with my friend Kevin Harty of Lasalle University in Philadelphia. Kevin has been a major source of St. Georges for me, and I appreciate his two latest ones:

• To my great delight Michael Wood was a participant in this conference. He is most famous for his history/travel videos, which are always popular with my students (including one from the 1980s on the Trojan War). I did not know that his original training was as a historian of Anglo-Saxon England, and his presentation on Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians (who died 1100 years ago, in 918) was illuminating. Episodes of Wood’s series King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons (“Alfred of Wessex,” “The Lady of the Mercians,” and “Aethelstan, the First King of England”) were shown on successive nights.

• Enjoyed the plenary session by William Chester Jordan of Princeton University, who spoke about the converts to Christianity that St. Louis made on his crusades, and their subsequent integration into French society. I did not know about this.

• Attended two sessions of the American Association of Irish Medieval Studies in preparation for my trip there later this month. I was happy to see my old friend Lee Follett from my days at the University of Toronto. 

•  Pleased to talk with Michael Gervers, who had supervised my Master’s thesis at Toronto. He has numerous scholarly interests beyond medieval England, including medieval Ethiopia, in which capacity he was at Kalamazoo this year. His work on Ethiopian rock-cut churches was noticed by the Toronto Star late last year, and Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie has awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Ethiopia in recognition of his research.

• My own paper, featuring my work on St. Michael, was given in honor of the retirement of my friend D’Arcy Boulton, emeritus of Notre Dame. Again, a great session and a lovely dinner afterwards with D’Arcy and co-panelists at the Great Lakes Shipping Company, a longstanding Kalamazoo institution.

The Style Sheet

For lack of anything substantive to post right now, please enjoy my style sheet for undergraduate papers. Comments or suggestions are welcome.


These rules do not apply to all forms of writing, but they do apply to formal, academic prose. Thus, you are to follow them when submitting assignments for this class. Violations will bring your grade down!

• Number your pages.

• Always have a proper title. “Western Civ. Paper” or “Book Review” are not proper titles.

• A novel is defined as “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” Do not refer to any historical book as a “novel.”

• Please italicize the titles of books, and place the titles of articles in “quotation marks.”

• Please accurately designate when past events occurred. Do not use vague phrases like “at that time” or “in those days.”

• Be aware of the distinction between it’s and its, and all other homophones such as:

thrown and throne
to, two and too
whose and who’s
populace and populous
four, for and fore
allowed and aloud
principle and principal
fourth and forth
know and no
since and sense
their, there, and they’re
cited and sited
pray and prey
rein, rain, and reign
your and you’re

• Avoid “process” statements, such as “after reading this document” or “I have chosen to write about A and B” or “at first this wasn’t clear to me.” Just as athletes dress in the dressing room or chefs cook in a kitchen, so also you should hide the essay-writing process from your reader. Just get down to it.

• Make sure that pronouns agree with the nouns they refer to. Instead of: “When a student does not come to class, they are in trouble” write “When a student does not come to class, he is in trouble” (both singular, if sexist) or “When students do not come to class, they are in trouble” (both plural).

• It must also be clear which noun a pronoun is referring to. “The Serbs disdained the Croats, because they were more sophisticated.” Who was more sophisticated?

• If you have a subordinate clause referring to a person, make sure that the relative pronoun is who, not that or which. “Many people that voted were confused” ought to be “Many people who voted were confused.” Always use “who” to refer to people (and “that” to refer to things).

• “Where” refers to a place, and “when” to a time. Do not write things like “the century where this event occurred.”

• Do not neglect the proper formation of past participle. For example, write “he was supposed to do it,” not “he was suppose to do it.”

• Verbs in the active voice tend to be better than verbs in the passive voice. “The dog ate its breakfast” is usually better than “the breakfast was eaten by the dog.” The passive voice can be useful, such as when you do not know who was doing the eating (“The breakfast was eaten.”). Too many passives, however, make for weak prose. Name the actors and their motivation.

• One recounts literature in the present tense (ex. “No one can be certain if Hamlet is really insane”) but recounts history in the past tense (ex. “Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death around A.D. 30.”). Always use the past tense when writing about historical events. Certainly, you should not shift tenses when recounting the past (“Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death, and then washes his hands of the matter”).

• Make sure that you write in complete sentences.

• Only use commas where appropriate. In particular, avoid placing a comma after the main verb in a sentence, e.g. “He wanted, to establish an absolute monarchy.” Omit the comma. Also, do not join independent clauses together only with a comma (a comma splice) or with nothing at all (a run-on sentence).

• Please use the examples below as models for the formation of possessives. Do not form plurals with apostrophe-s.

Singular noun: The dog’s breakfast (apostrophe-s)
Singular noun ending in “s”: Prince Charles’s bald patch (s-apostrophe-s)
Plural noun not ending in “s”: The women’s salaries (apostrophe-s)
Plural noun ending in “s”: The deans’ luncheon (s-apostrophe)
Special case: Jesus’ parables, Moses’ laws (s-apostrophe)

• Avoid colloquialisms, such as “Henry VIII was a righteous dude” or “the Black Death was a major bummer.” They are out of place in formal writing and imply that the reader does not need to take you seriously.

• The first time you mention some person or some thing you should explain who or what it is. Always give a person’s name and job description in full the first time you mention him or her – “U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt,” for example. Later, you can give his last name only. Similarly, write “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” before you start using “NATO.”

• Practice proper parallelism. Write sentences like “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” or “The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.” Do you see how these work? In the first sentence, the four objects of the verb “to offer” are all single-word, concrete nouns. In the second sentence, four nouns, each modified by an adjectival phrase, act as the object of the verb “contains.” That is, all the list items are grammatically parallel to each other. Do not write lists that do not exhibit such parallelism, for example: “The candidate promised quality, frugal, clean administration, and honest.” (A possible revision: “The candidate promised quality, frugality, cleanliness, and honesty.”)

• Each paragraph should function as its own mini-essay. A paragraph should start with a topic sentence and stick to that particular topic, with the sentences flowing logically from one to the other. If narrating events, the events should be narrated in the order they occurred – certainly, information should not be introduced without explanation.

• Think carefully about the words you use. If you are unsure of the meaning of a word, look it up in a dictionary. Use a thesaurus to find words that are similar in meaning. Come back to your paper more than a day after writing it and read it through. Does it make sense? Can you say it better?


An interesting discovery by Tim Furnish in a local Starbucks:

The website of Young Templar Ministries gives no indication where it is physically headquartered save for the Atlanta “770” area code in the founder’s phone number, and that they’ll be having a rally at 6835 Victory Lane in Woodstock, Ga. They don’t claim to be associated with any Christian denomination, but their beliefs section (“The Holy Bible is the inspired Word of God… Jesus was the final and complete sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Salvation is Given, not earned. It is freely given through Grace because of faith in Jesus Christ,” etc.) suggests fundamentalism and evangelicalism.

This seems a little odd. Why should a medieval crusading order serve as inspiration for a twenty-first century American youth movement? Christian warfare (the website references “Young Soldiers” and “God’s Army”), even of the metaphorical kind, is not exactly hip these days. The Templars, especially, are supposed to be inspirational to the alt-right and thus even more dodgy. And let’s not forget how they ended, and consequently how inspirational they were to esoteric and/or dissident groups.

Or is that the point – that anyone persecuted by the medieval church can’t be all bad? Or (more ominously) is Christian warfare really coming back into fashion?


Yes, it’s by Pat Buchanan, and yes, it’s, but I found his personal reminiscence of serving as Nixon’s aide during the 1968 election campaign to be fascinating.

On the night of Jan. 31, 1968, as tens of thousands of Viet Cong guerrillas attacked the major cities of South Vietnam, in violation of a Lunar New Year truce, Richard Nixon was flying secretly to Boston. At 29, and Nixon’s longest-serving aide, I was with him. Advance man Nick Ruwe met us at Logan Airport and drove us to a motel in Nashua, New Hampshire, where Nixon had been preregistered as “Benjamin Chapman.” The next day, only hours before the deadline, Nixon filed in Concord to enter the state’s Republican primary, just six weeks away.

On Feb. 2, The New York Times story “Nixon Announces for Presidency” was dwarfed by a giant headline: Street Clashes Go On in Vietnam; Foe Still Holds Parts of Cities; Johnson Pledges Never to Yield.” Dominating the page was the photograph of a captured Viet Cong, hands tied, being executed on a Saigon street by South Vietnam’s national police chief, firing a bullet into his head from inches away. Eddie Adams’s photo would win the Pulitzer Prize.

America’s most divisive year since the Civil War had begun.

Read the whole thing.

Orthodoxy and Authoritarianism

From Bloomberg, a novel theory:

Why Orthodox Christian Nations Remain Stuck

Their religious roots, not their Communist experience, support authoritarianism and risk aversion.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity has done more to shape certain ex-Communist countries than communism. It also, some say, made their people relatively unhappy and anti-capitalist. This theory got a lot of play in 1990s Russia but has now resurfaced in a fresh World Bank working paper.

Its authors, former Bulgarian finance minister Simeon Djankov and Elena Nikolova of University College London, analyzed data from the World Values Survey and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Life in Transition Survey to study the correlation between religious background and attitudes. They concluded that Orthodoxy made certain countries fertile ground for communism and generally shaped their path as distinct from those taken by countries steeped in Western Christian traditions. They wrote:

Western Christianity (which gave rise to Catholicism and Protestantism) placed emphasis on rationalism, logical exploration, individualism, and the questioning of established authorities. Eastern Christianity (from which Eastern Orthodoxy originated) was associated with mystical and experiential phenomena, was more affectionate and communitarian, and put less emphasis on law, reason and questioning authorities. Remarkably, these long-run attitudinal differences survived after nearly 50 years of communism.

Communist rulers weren’t church-friendly but, according to Djankov and Nikolova, they exploited the features of the Orthodox worldview that they found useful, such as the emphasis on tradition, communitarianism, “less reliance on legal exchanges” and a greater respect for authority. So the mindset shaped by the suppressed religion persisted, suppressing respect for the rule of law, iconoclasm,  creativity and innovation.

More at the link.