The original Museum was the “hall of muses” in Alexandria, and the original Mausoleum was a memorial to the Persian satrap Mausoleus at Halicarnassus, which was so impressive that it was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Lyceum was a school founded by Aristotle in the grove of Apollo Lykeos, while the Athenaeum was a school in Rome that was named after a nearby temple to Athena. Finally, the Colosseum (also spelled Coliseum) was a venue for gladiatorial combat in Rome that took its name from a colossal statue of Nero.
All of these “-eum” words have become general words in English. Museums and mausoleums are all over the place, and a lot of cities have coliseums (although lyceum, as “lycée,” is much more common in French*).
Plenty of other such words have not become general ones. Either they still refer to specific buildings, or specify types of buildings, in the ancient world only. I jotted down a few:
Ramesseum – the memorial temple of Ramesses the Great
Mithraeum – a temple to the god Mithras
pyreum – a Zoroastrian fire-altar (from Greek pura = fire)
Serapeum – a temple to Serapis in Egypt
And -eum is simply the Latin equivalent of the Greek -eon, which we also see from time to time, as in Odeon (a venue for the singing of odes) or Pantheon (a temple for worshiping all gods).
* It’s interesting how “lycée” is common in French but “academy” is common in English. The Academy, of course, was Plato’s school, in opposition to which Aristotle founded the Lyceum. But I’ve always considered the French to be far more Platonic than Aristotelian, and the English more Aristotelian than Platonic.
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.)