The cumless cake

(Semen is a theme, and, eventually, sexual practices involving semen, so some readers might want to exercise caution.)

Today’s taboo avoidance story, brought to my attention by Ben Zimmer, who provided a link to [UNN] (an unnamed national newspaper that lies behind a paywall for me, so I now lie behind a citewall for them; in this case, it seems to have broken the story), here as reported in today’s Daily Beast story “Publix Censors ‘Summa Cum Laude’ on Graduation Cake Order”:

(#1) The cumless cake

The grocery giant Publix is taking heat online for censoring a message on a cake that was meant to celebrate a new graduate’s academic achievement of summa cum laude status. Cara Koscinski ordered the cake online after her son Jacob graduated from his home-school program in Charleston, South Carolina, with a 4.89 grade-point average. Publix apparently edited out “cum” — in this context the Latin word for “with” — since it was deemed too profane on its website’s algorithm. Jacob was “absolutely humiliated,” Koscinski told The Washington Post. “It was unbelievable. I ordered the special graduation edition cake. I can’t believe I’m the first one to ever write ‘Summa Cum Laude’ on a cake.” A Publix store manager reportedly offered to remake the cake, but Koscinski said she declined.

Daily Beast comment from Koscinski herself:

Ok. I didn’t want to post but I cannot resist. I ordered Jacob’s graduation cake from Publix. A $70 cake!! He earned a 4.79 GPA. Publix refused to write the words Summa Cum Laude because I was using ‘profanity!’ They put three dashes instead of the word!

How utterly ridiculous and I will be speaking to a manager for a refund. Shame on you Publix for turning an innocent Latin phrase into a total embarrassment for having to explain to my son and others (including my 70 year old mother) about this joke of a cake. My son was humiliated!!! I seriously couldn’t make this crap up!!!!

Ah, the miracles of automatic asterisking. if cum is a blocked word, then not only will seminal uses be asterisked, but also the preposition borrowed from Latin:

prep. cum [ /kUm/ or /kʌm/ ]: [usually in combination] combined with; also used as (used to describe things with a dual nature or function): a study-cum-bedroom. ORIGIN late 19th century: Latin. (NOAD)

And, unless the asterisking program is very clever, so will a lot of other words, among them:

scum, cumin, cumulus, accumulate, recumbent, Cummings, Cumberbatch, Cumbria, Cumberland

Back on 7/31/06 on Language Log, I looked at automatic asterisking in my iTunes (at the time — a check today suggests they’ve given up asterisking), with this report:

The obvious miscreants (and their variants) are asterisked; these words count, in some people’s minds anyway, as taboo vocabulary across the board:

asshole, bitch, cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, nigga, nigger, piss, shit

Some items get on the list because a high percentage of their uses are sexual:

ass, clit, cock, jism, masturbate, penis, prick, pussy, slut, suck, tit(s), vagina, whore

On the other hand, words that have significant non-sexual uses aren’t asterisked:

balls, butt, dick, ho, hoe, jack (off), jerk (off), nuts

Nor are a few words that must have seemed to the iTunes folks to be technical or medical:

anal, anus, phallus, semen, testicles

There’s a fine line here between these words that make it through the filter and “masturbate”, “penis”, and “vagina”, which don’t.  (Another bit of oddness is the fact that “rape” escapes the iTunes filter.)

(Yes, masturbate NO, rape OK. Gnashing of teeth.)

I didn’t check on cum at the time, so I don’t know whether it would have gone with cock or with dick, but I’d expect the latter. (I see now that I also failed to check prick, which I’d expect to go with dick as well.)

No doubt the Publix staff will explain that automatic asterisking is both cost-effective and objective, so Koscinski shouldn’t complain (well, that’s what they would have said if they hadn’t suffered a storm of bad publicity). It would just cost too much to have actual people judge the vulgarity index of specific expressions in context, they might say. Instead, actual people judge, out of context, which words have a vulgarity index so high that they should be asterisked. They’re relying on these judgments to ensure a relatively low rate of (potentially expensive) misfires, and that’s probably foolish.

But if they’re going to asterisk, they should warn the customer that they won’t fill the order as given — just as iPhoto tells me when it won’t make up a book of copies of my collages when some of them show naked bodies or sexual acts (because Apple fears prosecution for making or distributing pornography). They shouldn’t just alter things to suit their own tastes.

Then there’s the question of where Publix uses its asterisking software and for what purposes. What, besides cakes?

Leave the P, take the semen. Yes, this is the infection point, where we shift from cakes without the P cum on them (cumless cakes) vs. cakes with it on them and move to cakes without cum on them (massively the default for cakes) to cakes with it on them (a minority taste, to be sure, but one with devoted adherents among seminophiles). This is where the sexually modest should bail out.

I’ve explored the great symbolic value of cum to gay men in a number of postings on this blog (links to these collected in a Page here). Beyond the routine act of swallowing cum in fellatio, there are many manifestations of seminophilia treated there:

coming on a partner’s body, cum feeding, cum sharing, cum drinking, watching cum shots, cum facials and other forms of bukkake, and creampies

In porn (gay or straight), the object of bukkake is sometimes referred to as a cum cake or cumcake — a play on cupcake. The idea is that the ejaculating men in bukkake are providing dollops of cream to the recipient in the event, treating the recipient like a cupcake, with the men’s cum as topping, icing, or frosting.

Actual cupcakes or larger cakes with a cum garnish or with a creamy topping of cum are sometimes depicted in porn, and maybe also composed in real life.

The cumcake / cupcake play is inviting if your mind tends to sex and sweet food together. If you’re a young raunchy hip hop artist with the stage name Cupcakke — Elizabeth Eden Harris — it’s probably irresistible. So:


Cum Cake is the debut mixtape from American hip hop artist Cupcakke. It was released on February 9, 2016 independently through TuneCore. The first single, “Vagina”, was released on October 9, 2015. “Deepthroat” and “Juicy Coochie” were later-released singles along with “Tit For Tat”, “Exceptions”, and “Pedophile”. (Wikipedia link)

(For aspiring folk poets: Juicy coochie wet vagina is a sturdy dirty line of trochaic tetrameter, which you could treat as a donée for a four-line verse.)

Sop to the Facebook algorithm for displaying images (so that #2 isn’t the one that shows): a rainbow cupcake with creamy (but non-cum) topping:


5 Responses to “The cumless cake”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Ben Zimmer on Facebook, a link to bit from Stephen Colbert:

    — in which SC bakes a cupcake for Jacob:

    Later, SC has Jon Stewart on as a guest, and JS bakes a cake for SC, declaring, “It’s a cum cake!”, pronounced with /kʌm/, which the network bleeped.

  2. chrishansenhome Says:

    I recall fondly situations where searches for the northern English town “Scunthorpe” have come up with nothing because of the rude word in the middle of it.

  3. PJB Says:

    As silly as the auto-hyphenation may have been, I blame the purchasers who knew there was a problem before placing the order. The climax of this sticky situation could have been avoided by simply picking up the telephone and speaking with the baker live – or better yet, showing up at the store in person – instead of depending on comments in an anonymous, automatic dialog box on the browser.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I didn’t understand PJB’s comment at first and queried them about it in e-mail. Their response:

      The article I read explained that the website order form showed them that there was a problem. Instead of talking to an actual person to straighten it out, they relied on the comment option on the online order form. It was a local store pick-up, not a long distance shipment. Common sense and general familiarity with the unrelenting rigidity of robotic decision-making and the unresponsive anonymity of online commentary would just call the bakery – just like in the olden-days.

      From the Washington Post: “But there was still hope. The Publix form included a section for “special instructions” for the bakery, in which Koscinski explained that Summa Cum Laude was a Latin term for high academic honor and was not profane. She included a link to a website explaining the meaning of summa cum laude and said she didn’t think much about it afterward.”

      Ah, Koscinski is at fault in this because she took the company at its word on their website, not realizing that they would disregard anything she said; she should have understood that she was dealing with robots, not human beings. (PJB assumes that if she’d called the bakery, human beings would have overriden the robots. I wonder.) In any case, PJB thinks Koscinski should have understood that things on the website were not to be trusted.

      Gnashing of teeth.

  4. PJB Says:

    PJB thinks that robots are less responsive and less reliable decision makers than humans. If a robot says no to something that should clearly be allowed, and a responsible human is nearby, talk to the human – don’t gnash your teeth.

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