This post features adult related topics presented with the usual level of decorum and political correctness you have become accustomed to from my Cluttered Desk (in other words, none). If you are easily offended by wayward words and adult oriented topics, please do not proceed. You've been warned.
A week ago a story went viral about a South Carolina family who ordered a cake from a Publix Supermarket for the graduation of their son from a Christian High School. This story is a lesson that not everything we encounter is as it appears, and that at times, we should question the obvious.
On the surface of the tale it appears to be the perfect picture of stupid policies run amuck. It seems that a word the mother wanted to use violated the grocery chains profanity policy and was omitted from the confectionary delight. You see, the son was graduating with highest honors, or the designation known as “Summa Cum Laude.” It was one word in that phrase that Publix seemed to object to, declaring it profanity (I was going to say it was a word they could not swallow, but I thought better of it; a possible sign of my growth as a writer).
I certainly hope I don't have to explain this to any of you.
When the family whipped it out at the celebratory occasion, they were chagrined to see that the cake said, ‘‘Congrats Jacob! Summa - - - Laude Class of 2018.” In case you are still unclear, the bakery replaced the word “Cum” with 3 hyphens.You see, in the wrong context (like just about anywhere outside a setting of higher education), cum is a naughty word. As the story goes, explaining this to the guests made for a great deal of giggling at said graduation soiree.
However, when we really analyze what happened here, it is easier to understand why this may have occurred. It is likely much less a tale of corporate lunacy and much more a tale of circumstance combined with careless mistakes.
The boy's mother ordered this cake online. When she entered the words she wanted on the cake, the online system returned with the following confirmation and a message. It displayed, “Congrats Jacob! Summa - - - Laude Class of 2018,” and advised her that a word determined to be profanity could not be used. She took the time to explain in comments that the word was in fact not profanity, and that Summa Cum Laude was a label of distinction and honor. She asked in the comments that the phrase be used as she requested.
This is not unusual. Many online applications use a “naughty word filter” designed to prevent abuse or improper use. It is pretty clear that the folks in Publix risk management were pretty thorough in determining what words could not be used in their online cake ordering app. I've ordered a number of cakes over the years. Using that word on any of them never even crossed my mind.
I'm going out on a limb here. I'm speculating that the Publix employee who processed the order on the other end did not graduate Summa Cum Laude. They appear to have taken the computer-generated version verbatim and ignored the notes completely. The store, for its part, apologized to the family and refunded their money. The family has apparently laughed it off and all appears to be forgiven.
Gloria Allred will have to turn her car around and head home. There will be no work for her here.
So much can go wrong when we become solely dependent on process and fail to look for the outliers. If the person who was given the order had taken just a moment to look at the entire submission instead of the cake message box this would likely have never happened. If they had paused just a moment to question why someone would want “---” on their graduation cake, a very public Publix brouhaha might have been avoided.
Of course, the other lesson may be that we shouldn't order cakes online. It may be best to trudge down to the store and just tell the baker what you want.
Either way, had someone taken the time to actually think about the job they were doing, that family could have had a properly decorated cake and eaten it, too. Even I can figure that out, and I clearly did not graduate Summa --- Laude.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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