Here’s another repost from May 23, 2018. I’m reposting it, because I think it’s funny. Keep in mind, this happened four years ago, before the world went to pandemic hell.
Last night, while quaffing too much wine and getting overly emotional about musical selections on iTunes, I ran across an article about a woman from Charleston, South Carolina who purchased a $70 cake from a Publix supermarket. Cara Koscinski’s son, Jacob, had just graduated from homeschool “Summa Cum Laude”. Just as an aside, I didn’t realize Latin superlatives were a thing for people finishing high school. But apparently, this young man graduated with highest honors, finishing with a GPA of 4.79.
Koscinski had used Publix’s online ordering system to acquire the cake. When she typed in “Summa Cum Laude”, the system automatically censored the word “cum”. So Ms. Koscinski, thinking that a human being would be looking at the comments section on the order form, explained that the word “cum” in this instance was referring to the Latin phrase, not the disgusting slang term for semen.
Unfortunately, the person who decorated the cake was lacking both critical thinking skills and the powers of observation. The person decorated the cake and wrote “Summa — Laude”, omitting the word “cum”. Koscinski’s husband, who picked up the cake at the store, did not look at it before it was presented to Koscinski’s son, who was reportedly “humiliated” when he saw it.
Few things here… First off, it was a very stupid mistake. I don’t blame Ms. Koscinski for publicizing this or even speaking to the manager about this oversight. The online ordering system obviously needs to be updated in some way and the bakery employees need training. Clearly, the person who decorated the cake was either working on autopilot or needs to be educated about Latin phrases that might be requested for decorated desserts. At the very least, the rest of the world deserves to have a good laugh at the stupidity of this error.
Secondly, I kind of think Ms. Koscinski’s anger is a little bit out of proportion. I mean, as sad as it is that apparently no one else at that particular Publix has ever ordered a cake with “Summa Cum Laude” on it, the error is kind of funny. And if Jacob was really “humiliated” by a mistake that wasn’t his fault, he’s probably going to have a tough time of it in the real world. When it comes down to it, it’s just a few dashes of icing that will be eaten, anyway. Evidently, the young man felt he had to explain the term “cum” to his grandmother and why it would be censored on the cake. Kind of makes me think he must come from a very sheltered family who doesn’t eat a lot of cum.
And finally… if there’s one thing to be learned about this story, it’s that whenever you purchase a decorated cake, it pays to look at the finished product before you leave the store. It might also be a good idea to order the cake in person or skip the grocery store bakeries and patronize a small business instead. Actually, just reading about this reminds me of our wedding reception and how I wish I’d used a small catering service in town instead of the one offered at Virginia Military Institute. I think I would have been much happier with the results.
Ms. Koscinski did get an apology, a gift card, and a refund from Publix. They also offered to remake the cake for her. She declined, stating “You only graduate once.” That may be true, but Koscinski’s son will probably be cumming for the rest of his life. At least he’ll have a funny story to share about it.
You might say today’s post is a bit of a rerun. It involves a certain relative of mine who has been “trying to clean up [his] vocabulary.” In his quest to quit cursing, he’s taken to replacing letters in certain swear words in an attempt to “improve” his language. Why he feels compelled to do this, I don’t really know. I can only guess.
I know I’ve written about this before. In fact, I’m just now looking up when I last wrote about this topic. I see it was exactly two months ago to the day– June 30, 2020, when I wrote about how my cousin referred to “chicken shot” instead of “chickenshit”. But that post was about a memory I found on Facebook in which he and I had butted heads over a National Rifle Association ad. This cousin– I routinely refer to him as “Timmy”, although that is not his real name– got into an argument with Bill and said that his argument was “chicken shot”.
Naturally, I rolled my eyes at that, since I think it’s a waste of energy to clean up one’s language in such a way. Words and language usage do matter, of course, but I personally don’t believe in “bad” words. All words, even the really offensive ones, have a legitimate usage somewhere. Every word can be used in a non-offensive way. That includes the infamous “n-word” that gets people riled up. Try reading a slave narrative without encountering that word. Try listening to Stevie Wonder’s brilliant song, “Living For the City” without that word. Even certain episodes of 70s era sitcoms employ the n-word in a way that is useful. Sometimes the right word really is one that shocks and offends. Aside from that, I have a serious problem with black and white thinking on almost any subject, as well as issues with authority. So when it comes to language use, Timmy and I will probably always butt heads.
But never mind the n-bomb. I don’t want to get into that discussion today. I want to write about my cousin’s use of the non-word, “fike”, and how it makes him seem kind of “fake” to me now. And that makes me sad.
I don’t understand using a non-word like “fike” when it’s clear that one actually means to say “fuck”. In this instance, Timmy wasn’t even swearing. It’s not like he was saying “fuck you” to someone, trying to debase them. Even our sweet grandmother, a woman I never once heard utter a “bad word”, sometimes quoted her mother, who would swear on occasion. In my mind, Timmy wasn’t cursing in the above example. He was quoting someone else. Mind you, he also referred to using a weapon on someone who was cursing. Frankly, I prefer someone who swears, to someone who is overly casual about using weapons. Isn’t it a bit “fucked up” that Timmy writes that he would have shot more of them for using “bad language” and taking pictures? But he wants to clean up his “vocabulary”… Hmm…
Seems to me that if you change letters in a word so that it no longer spells the bad word, but it’s obvious that the bad word is what you really meant, you’ve actually accomplished nothing in your goal of “cleaning up your vocabulary”. The thought was still there, and we all know what your intent was. If Timmy really wants to upgrade his vocabulary, he should say something else or use a different, but legitimate, word in the “bad word’s” place. But I suppose that’s too much to expect from someone who thinks that guns are less offensive than four letter words are.
You see, Timmy used to be a lot of fun. Yes, he got into trouble a lot, mainly because he drank too much, got into fights, and brought his guns into places he shouldn’t have. He’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, too, and I think that influenced him to put himself in situations that made life more difficult for him and his loved ones. But when he was younger, he was free-spirited and loving. I remember him as kind to me when I was a little girl. He used to be one of my favorite relatives. I rarely got to see him when I was growing up, because he grew up in Texas and I grew up in Virginia. It was rare that his parents would bring him and his brothers to Virginia for our annual Thanksgiving shindig.
Years later, when my uncle retired from full time work, he bought a home in Virginia and resettled there with his wife, who passed away about ten years ago. Timmy and one of his brothers followed their dad east. I got to see and know my cousins more… at least the ones who came east. For awhile, Timmy was still fun. But then one day, he publicly declared himself an alcoholic and found religion (although I’m not sure he’s found Jesus yet). And now he’s drunk on religion instead of booze. I’m glad he quit drinking. His drinking legitimately got him into trouble. But it seems that he’s now traded alcohol for being a religious wingnut.
I find Timmy hard to talk to nowadays, mainly because he’s adopted this holier-than-thou smugness and seriousness that he didn’t used to have as much. He won’t say words like “shit” or “fuck”, and he’ll get upset when someone curses on his Facebook feed, but he’s ruder than ever in the way he talks down to people. I’ve seen him do it to Bill, but he is especially condescending to women– particularly women he thinks are too liberal. It’s clear to me that he looks down on people who are liberal and thinks he’s “smarter” than they are, to the point of not being willing to listen respectfully to what they have to say and learning from them, even if he disagrees.
Bill and I were talking about this yesterday. Bill thinks that sometimes, when people decide to change their lives by giving up vices such as drinking alcohol, they feel like they have to make amends for everything “bad” they did in the past. They worry excessively about offending God somehow, and they start going into overdrive, trying to become “better” people. But they don’t really recognize or change their behaviors, nor do they realize that by trying not to offend a perfect being (God), who should be above being “offended”, they annoy everybody else. They just change their obsession to something they think is more acceptable. In Timmy’s case, I think he traded boozing, cussing, and partying with being really pious, to the point of being obnoxious and insufferable.
I know that people involved in addiction recovery have a term known as “dry drunk” syndrome. Basically, it refers to a person who has stopped drinking or using drugs, but is still engaged in the negative behaviors and psychological maladies associated with their addiction(s), except for the drinking and/or drugging itself. One thing I’ve noticed among the alcoholics in my family is that they tend to be very controlling, overbearing, angry, and smug. That quality doesn’t go away when they stop drinking, although if I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure that any of the alcoholics in my family ever permanently gave up the sauce. I know my dad was never able to. But they know they have a problem with booze, which only adds to the guilt, frustration, and “demon” load they’re already bearing.
One thing I’d like to tell Timmy, though, is that carrying weapons and “shooting” people who swear and take pictures is not Christlike behavior. It’s all well and good that he wants to clean up his vocabulary. If he really means it, that’s commendable. But I would much rather hear him let loose with a blue streak of cursing than see him champion gun rights people who have no qualms about shooting people they think are “punks”. And to be very honest, I suspect that Timmy has certain people in mind that he wouldn’t have issues with dispatching somehow. He would never admit it, of course, but I know he holds certain people in disdain. Again, it’s not very “Christlike” behavior, nor is it an admirable attitude. I’m sure God appreciates that one of the world’s flock has decided to say “fike” instead of “fuck”, but I’m sure he’d rather Timmy cuss than be violent. But I suppose not taking take the Lord’s name in vain is easier than not wanting to be violent.
Anyway… I know that Timmy really meant “fuck” when he wrote “fike”. And seeing him write “fike” is annoying, especially when he claims he’s only trying to “clean up his vocabulary”. As a self-identified English language snob, I wish he’d simply find a more creative but legitimate way to say what he means and mean what he says. And I wish he’d stop glorifying guns as he proclaims his love for Godliness. It’s just a load of horseshit… or “chicken shot”, if he prefers.
A couple of days ago, a friend invited me to join a group for military spouses against racism. I hesitated for about a day before I accepted the invite. It’s not that I’m against fighting racism. I do think it’s a serious problem and I am always open to learning new ways to be a better person. I like being in groups where resources are shared and people can discuss things openly and calmly. At first, it looked like that group might turn into something useful and good.
Nevertheless, I still hesitated joining. I was right to hesitate. In my experience, Facebook groups, especially those involving the U.S. military, tend to degrade very quickly. In the past, I have hung on in those types of groups for much longer than I should have, trying to take what was good and leaving the rest. But I am now at a point in my life at which I don’t want to waste any time on bullshit. While that group started out pretty well, this morning I could see that it was rapidly turning into a shitstorm. 2020 is one big shitstorm on its own. I don’t need any more thrown at me on social media.
In this case, the shitstorm was prompted when an admin posted that the word “picnic” is a derogatory, racist term. I was a bit perplexed by that revelation. I had never heard of “picnic” being offensive. It’s used a lot in Germany. It’s generally a term used to describe dining al fresco, often while sitting on a blanket with a basket full of food.
There’s even a play called Picnic, that I remember being performed at my college when I was a freshman. Longwood University, then called Longwood College, has a long history in the fight against racism. It’s located in the town of Farmville in Prince Edward County, Virginia, the location of one of the worst resistances of massive integration in U.S. history. Prince Edward County is also the location of a well-known fight for civil rights. From the link:
During the 20th century, Prince Edward was the center both of one of America’s worst episodes of massive resistance and one of the bravest moments of the Civil Rights struggle. In 1951, the student-led strike at Moton High School, organized by then-16 year old Barbara Johns, produced the majority of plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education. The public schools, however, were closed for five years beginning in 1959 rather than integrated. And yet it was here also, four decades later, that a majority of voters opted to make Douglas Wilder the first African-American to be elected governor in any state in all of American history – yes, that happened in Virginia.
I couldn’t imagine my racially conscious college putting on a play called Picnic if the word “picnic” is racist. I decided to look up the history of the word to find out if it was, in fact, derogatory. What I found out is that for the past twenty years or so, there’s been an urban legend going around the Internet claiming that “picnic” is a racist term. However, the story about “picnic” being offensive is false. The word was first used in France in the late 1600s. It was first used in English in 1748, and in those days, it had no racial connotations whatsoever.
So how did this rumor get started? Well, it seems that back in the days when lynchings were completely acceptable, some white people would have a picnic while they watched. It was entertaining for them to watch black people being lynched. They’d eat, drink, and be merry. At some point, the word was supposedly bastardized to mean “pic-a-nig”, or so I learned as I read that thread, which eventually swelled to over 250 comments before I finally decided to leave the group. Because some people “picnicked” while lynching people, somehow there were people who felt that the term “picnic” should always refer to the practice of white people having an outdoor gathering involving food while watching black people being murdered in the most horrifying ways.
Some people correctly pointed out that the word “picnic” isn’t a racist term. They provided the usual links to proof– and the links were good ones, from legitimate academic sources, as well as popular and reputable sites like Snopes.com and Politifact. But the person who started the thread soon became very agitated and, though she was an “admin” for the group, sank into name calling.
The admin repeatedly called one articulate poster a “Karen” (and if you read this blog, you probably already know how I feel about that) and accused her of being “passive aggressive”, a term which I have a feeling she can’t accurately define. I watched her escalate the situation more and more with some concern. Other posters were calling out the admin for being immature, but she insisted that she was just calling people out for being “racially insensitive” because people were refusing to agree with her that the word “picnic” is triggering, and they didn’t want one more word to be considered “bad” due to racism. It seems like people who are against racism would want to see fewer offensive words rather than more words– but here they were, arguing over whether an innocuous word should be deemed “offensive” due to what some people did during lynchings.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might also know how I feel about burying language and symbols. I understand why people think it’s the right thing to do. It’s certainly easier to ban words and symbols than it is to reclaim them and encourage people to change their attitudes and enlighten themselves. However, it’s been my experience that when people ban words and symbols, new ones tend to crop up. Moreover, by banning a so-called “offensive” word, you still haven’t dealt with the negative attitude that led up to its creation. It’s more like an “out of sight, out of mind” solution that only hides the problem instead of fixing it.
On my original blog, I once wrote a post about an argument I got into with a guy who insisted to me that it’s offensive to use a word like “niggardly” when describing one’s money habits. Niggardly, by the way, is NOT at all a racist term. It has nothing to do with racism, doesn’t have the same etymology as the racist term “nigger”, nor is it even spelled like the racist epithet. The guy who was arguing with me is a teacher, and he has a habit of being very overbearing with his views.
I don’t like overbearing people, probably due to my own personality quirks. His “style” was not making me want to change my opinions, yet he kept hammering away at me, insisting that people have the right to be offended by the word “niggardly” because it sounds like a racist epithet. And rather than encouraging people to educate themselves so they won’t be offended when no offense is intended, he thinks we all should just quit using that word. I didn’t appreciate his heavy handed approach. I found it disrespectful and disdainful. It didn’t make me inclined to listen to or consider his viewpoint.
I will grant that there are other words that mean the same as niggardly does. We could all just say “stingy” or “miserly”. It basically means that a person is tight with their money, and there are other ways to say that without using a word that sounds so close to an insult. And frankly, if I were a teacher, I would absolutely encourage my students to choose a less controversial word simply because it’s better to avoid an unnecessary fight with someone who has a less developed vocabulary. However, I would also want them all to know that the word is not akin to the “n bomb”, and that if they see or hear it, they should not take offense if it’s being used properly. It’s not an insulting word, even if it does sound like a word that is very insulting.
I feel the same way about the term “picnic”. If you feel better calling an outdoor gathering involving food a barbecue or a cookout, by all means, call it by those terms. But I also want people to know that if the word “picnic” is considered racist by some people, it’s because it was wrongly hijacked. Its original meaning had nothing to do with racism. And I don’t think it’s right to give bad people the power to change language in that way. Why should we? It’s not the word that’s “bad”. It’s the asshole who is using language to be hurtful and demeaning that is “bad”. Words are neutral.
I didn’t like the way the admin, who by the time I left the group had been stripped of her admin powers, was insulting and berating people. I also noticed that she wasn’t the only one engaging in that behavior. The attacking and uncivilized behavior was distasteful to me, and some of it seemed like it would cause more problems than it solved. I felt my stress levels rise just reading everything and seeing all of the visuals… and I wasn’t even involved in 99% of what was being shared in there.
For instance, I noticed one member had posted screenshots of an American man who works in a German military town. The guy has responsibilities in a major military facility, but his personal views are on naked display. He used monkeys to make his point– the old “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” illustration, which commonly uses “three wise monkeys”, a concept that originated in Japan. Someone in the group determined that the mere use of monkeys was inherently racist, and people were talking about trying to get him fired. While I personally disagreed with what I saw on his page, I also think there’s a fine line between calling out racism and ruining people’s lives by threatening their livelihoods.
There are real costs associated with call out culture and mob mentality. The aftereffects of publicly shaming people and making them infamous don’t always just affect the perpetrators; they also harm people associated with them, some of whom are completely innocent. Imagine if the guy they were discussing so fervently has young children. These women go after this guy’s job by making an “ICE” complaint. The many complaints cause the man to lose his job, and his family eventually spirals into poverty that leads to other serious family issues like divorce or alcoholism. The young children grow up in that bad environment, and hear about how it happened.
How do you think that might affect how they view military wives, particularly those of color? Will they be grateful that someone took a stand and made the guy pay for posting the three wise monkey emojis, even if what he wrote wasn’t particularly racist in nature? Or will they be angry that a group targeted their father and caused his life to go south, thereby causing their lives to go south, too?
I think most people respond better to kindness, reasonableness, and understanding than they do shaming, insulting, threatening, and attacking. I was hoping that group would be a place where people could have intelligent discussions without fear of being attacked or insulted. Unfortunately, I saw evidence that what was originally intended to be a place for sharing ideas and understanding, had turned into the usual military wives Facebook group. There were too many people immediately adopting an adversarial tone, rather than taking a moment to collect themselves and giving people the benefit of the doubt. And frankly, I’m just too old, crotchety, and impatient for those kinds of groups anymore. So I will continue to do my best to educate myself outside of that group. It’s probably better for my mental health. Maybe I am a “Karen” after all.
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