Thu | Jun 21, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Latin cum mistaken for semen

Published:Sunday | May 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Newspapers in the United States have reported an entertaining story about the Publix supermarket in Charleston, South Carolina, that refused to decorate a graduation cake with the word cum. And it's certainly not fake news. The politically correct algorithm used by Publix to weed out profanity deleted cum from the phrase, summa cum laude, and substituted three dashes.

The automated system was not sophisticated enough to take context into account. It did not recognise that cum, just like summa and laude, is actually Latin. The distinction summa cum laude is earned by graduates from both high school and college whose academic performance is acknowledged as highest (summa) with (cum) praise (laude).

The Publix censor assumed that cum was an out-of-order word. The Vocabulary.com online dictionary gives this rather judgemental definition of cum: "A vulgar slang word for the liquid that comes out of the penis during ejaculation. Sometimes spelled come, this is [a] very inappropriate word."

Why is cum vulgar and inappropriate? Come is such an innocent word that has now been splashed with semen. It's primarily a verb of motion. It comes from the Old English word cuman, meaning 'to move with the purpose of reaching, or so as to reach, some point; to arrive by movement or progression'. Of course, that movement could be decidedly sexual and the conclusion could be a spurt of semen.

 

FEMALE EJACULATION

 

But cum is not only semen. Women also ejaculate. In a January 9, 2015, article, 'Female Ejaculation Comes in Two Forms, Scientists Find', posted on the New Scientist website, Helen Thomson reports, "Researchers have now come a step closer to defining this controversial phenomenon, by performing the first ultrasound scans on women who express large amounts of liquid at orgasm." Express is another one of those many Latin words that have migrated into English. Here it means to press out or squeeze out.

A classic example of controversy around female ejaculation was the 2002 case in which the British Board of Film Classification ruled that six minutes and 12 seconds of British Cum Queens should be cut. Sharon Moalem tells the far-from-dry story in a May 27, 2009, article, "Everything you always wanted to know about female ejaculation (but were afraid to ask)," also posted on the New Scientist website:

"The offending segment showed some of the female participants apparently ejaculating fluid from their genitals on orgasm. The film board stated that female ejaculation did not exist, so the actresses must have been urinating. And urinating on another actor on film is banned under the UK's Obscene Publications Act."

Activist women did not take this decision lying down. They stood up for the right to have their ejaculation acknowledged. Moalem reports, "The group Feminists Against Censorship marshalled all the scientific evidence they could find to prove that some women do, in fact, ejaculate. The film board eventually backed down from its complete denial of the phenomenon, stating that female ejaculation was a 'controversial and much-debated area'".

 

'ABSOLUTELY HUMILIATED'

 

The Post and Courier, the main daily newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, carried the cum story written by Amber Ferguson and published on May 22 by The Washington Post. Cara Koscinski, who ordered the cake for her son Jacob's party, said that he was "absolutely humiliated" by the deletion of cum.

I really don't understand why. Since Jason was graduating summa cum laude, he should be smart enough to figure out why Publix made the mistake. Even though his mother had explained in the 'special instructions' section of the order that this cum was not profane. Like the rest of us, Jason could have just had a good laugh about the mistake.

And Cara was apparently embarrassed about explaining to her 70-year-old mother why cum had not been allowed on the cake. But, surely, Jacob's grandmother must know a thing or two about semen. After all, she does have at least one child. She may not know the slang word for semen but she does know what it's good for.

 

DONALD TRUMP'S INSTRUMENT

 

Then Publix is a supermarket chain that operates in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. With the exception of Virginia, all of these states voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections. Cum on a cake seems a far more innocent proposition than the web of scandals, not just sexual, in which Donald Trump is enmeshed.

Stormy Daniels, American cum queen, can, allegedly, tell a tale or two about Trump's instrument of ejaculation. According to her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, "She can describe the president's genitalia in great detail." And the mythical videotape featuring prostitutes urinating on a bed in Moscow would definitely not make it past the British Board of Film Classification if liquid splashed on any participant.

I wonder what the Publix algorithm would do if someone tried to order a cake decorated with the words 'Donald Trump'. Would a message come saying "profane/special characters not allowed"? And would the lettering be nothing but a series of eleven dashes? Sounds about right!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.