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Cum

The Latin loanword cum, originally a preposition meaning with, in English has come to mean plus or along with being. It usually takes the form [noun]-cum-[noun], with the two nouns denoting characteristics of a person or thing. It’s often used to describe an individual’s or thing’s contradictory or surprising characteristics—for example, “Jimmy is a hunter-cum-animal-activist.”

Like many Latin loanwords, cum may be either italicized or unitalicized. We usually stop italicizing them when they are well established in English, and cum has been around for centuries, so it’s not necessary to italicize it. Some writers do italicize it, however, to make it clear they’re using the Latin loanword and not the vulgar slang word.


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Examples

Juliette Binoche is Vianne, a beautiful and mysterious woman who opens a store that sells magical chocolate candies—Viagra-cum-saturated fat. [Wall Street Journal]

Joe Glenton, a soldier-cum-activist, was jailed today for nine months in Britain for going AWOL. [Huffington Post]

Rufus and Martha Wainwright … have taken up their mother’s annual Christmas-concert-cum-family-reunion project. [New York Times]

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