Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: Cake inscriptions gone wrong.
Origins: The possibility for a miscommunication disaster exists any time orally-delivered
Orally-delivered messages also run the risk of being parsed literally, with the instructions surrounding them understood to be part of the message. (We see that potential for confusion come to fruition in another legend, wherein the name "R.B. Jones" entered into a payroll system as "R[only] B[only] Jones" emerges as "Ronly Bonly Jones.")
There are many misinscribed cake stories out there. Here are some others that have surfaced in the print media:
[The New Yorker, 1942]One interesting cake misdecoration tale has the error occurring not in the message, but in the icing.
There's a married couple whose birthdays fall on the same date, which they naturally celebrate pretty lavishly. Just before their last birthday, the lady stopped in at her neighborhood bakeshop and ordered a cake with "Happy Birthdays" on it. "You see, two of us are having a birthday," she explained to the clerk. "So I want it to say 'Happy
The clerk wrote the instructions down carefully, and sure enough, when the cake was delivered, it had "Happy Birthdays Plural" on it.
[Sydney Morning Herald, 2003]
When Marlyn Wade ordered a birthday cake for her husband in a tres chic French patisserie in Murwillumbah, the assistant (with a delightful French accent) asked if it was for "a guy or a girl". "A guy," Marlyn assured him. "But," says June Howard, Marlyn's mother, "on picking it up later, she read on the work of art in blue icing - Happy birthday Guy. Her husband's name is Peter. Delicious cake, though!"
[Sydney Morning Herald, 2003]
It's always risky ordering cakes to be iced (Column 8, Wednesday). Liz Ralston, of Frenchs Forest, who belongs to Inner Wheel, a worldwide organisation of partners of Rotarians, phoned a patisserie and ordered a special cake for the Ryde Inner Wheel Club. The cake came, inscribed: Ride in a Wheel.
[Florida Times-Union, 2007]Numerous visitors to this site have thought to tell us about their encounters with misinscribed cakes:
Our mountaintop communications site in Taiwan in the 1970s decided to have an anniversary party. The Chinese cooks baked a beautiful birthday cake as instructed by the mess hall sergeant. Everything was perfect except for one thing.
Since they did not know what frosting was, they substituted lard.
[Collected via e-mail, 2007]Even floral tributes are not safe:
I was in your misprinted cake section and I have a true story for you. A friend of mine had to get a cake at the last minute. She went to Price Club and filled out the form for a cake. In the inscription box she wrote: Happy Birthday (if time allows add red flowers). The person writing the inscription must not have understood because we got the cake back and it said:
if time allows
I just read "Cake Talk" and it reminded me of a transcription problem I once had. I had ordered an ice cream cake and wanted the phrase "You're old, Bruce!" on it. I didn't open the cake when I picked it up because I was afraid of messing it up, and brought it to the restaurant and had them bring it out almost immediately, since it was ice cream. The inscription had the common homonym replacement, giving "your old Bruce."
From that day forward, we would often refer to him as "our old Bruce."
Speaking of misinscribed cakes: I work in a grocery store bakery. I took an order for a cake where the man said "It's for a man, you pick the decoration."
So I wrote on the cake form, "Your pick for a male."
The hispanic decorator took me literally. SHE WROTE THAT ON THE CAKE. Needless to say, the guy was NOT happy when he picked it up. But, the decorator was able to fix it.
[Collected via e-mail, 2007]Misinscribed cake tales point out the pitfalls of entrusting others (even trained bakery workers) with the task of executing in icing one's heartfelt
My husband is a mortician. He found an odd card on some flowers that were sent in honor of the deceased. The story was great-apparently when the sender of the flowers called to place her order, the florist asked what she wanted written on the card. So she said, "Write 'Rest in peace' on both sides. And, if you can fit it in, 'We'll see you in eternity'." So my husband found it just like that:
"Rest in Peace on both sides. And if you can fit it in, we'll see you in eternity."
Barbara "bakery fakery" Mikkelson
Sightings: On 25 March 2008 episode of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno showed the "Best Wishes Suzanne" photo displayed in the Examples section on this page.
Last updated: 25 March 2008
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