The Grammarphobia Blog

Oh, come now, TripAdvisor!

Q: I tried to post a hotel review on TripAdvisor, but got this response: “We can’t accept reviews that use profanity.” However hard I looked, I couldn’t find any profanity. In despair, I wrote to TripAdvisor. Two weeks later, a human informed me that “because of the double meaning of a particular word in the second-to-last sentence, we ask that you edit your original review.” Then, it dawned on me. Here’s the sentence: “It’s especially nice that La Mariposa is not only a language school cum Eco hotel, but part of a community which it is able to support in all sorts of ways.” Spot the word?

A: This is a hoot! We were both down with the flu when your email arrived, and it gave us a much-needed laugh.

Here’s the etymology of the perfectly respectable word “cum,” and we only wish the folks at TripAdvisor could see it.

The Latin preposition cum means “with” or “together with,” and it was adopted into use in English in the late 1500s.

In English, “cum” is frequently used “as a connective word forming compounds to indicate a dual nature or function,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

This is precisely how you used the word when you described La Mariposa as “a language school cum Eco Hotel.” You meant that the Nicaraguan resort is both a language school and an Eco Hotel. Generally, though, hyphens are used: “language school-cum-Eco Hotel.”

As the OED points out, the preposition “cum” is also “used in English in local names of combined parishes or benefices, as Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Stow-cum-Quy, where it originated in Latin documents.”

It can also be found, Oxford says, in several much-used Latin phrases, including “cum grano salis (or familiarly cum grano), lit. ‘with a grain of salt,’ i.e. with some caution or reserve.”

Here are some OED citations, from the 19th and 20th centuries, in which writers used “cum” just as you did, to indicate a dual nature or function:

“He greatly preferred coffee cum chicory to coffee pure and simply” (1871, from Julian C. Young’s book about his actor father, A Memoir of Charles Mayne Young, Tragedian).

“The Belgrave-cum-Pimlico life” (1873, from Anthony Trollope’s novel The Eustace Diamonds).

“Easy motor-bike-cum-side-car trips round London” (1913, from Rudyard Kipling’s story collection A Diversity of Creatures).

“The fervent mediaevalism … developed a philosophic-cum-economic tinge” (1939, from Osbert Lancaster’s book on domestic architecture, Homes Sweet Homes).

“Three short … dinner-cum-cocktail dresses” (1959, from the Manchester Guardian).

“The atmosphere of laboratory-cum-workshop” (1959, from Viewpoint magazine).

Now for the word that TripAdvisor thought you were using.

It’s simply a flippant misspelling of the slang noun “come,” which the OED says has been used since 1923 to mean “semen ejaculated at sexual climax, esp. spilt ejaculate. Also (rarely), fluid secreted by the vagina during sexual play.”

This noun sense of “come,” the OED says, originated with the identical verb (“to experience sexual orgasm”). And the sexual sense of the verb has been in English since before 1650, when it was recorded in a collection of raunchy songs.

Obviously, this wasn’t what you had in mind when you used the preposition “cum.” Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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