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.)