The meaning of cum is combined with; also used as (used to describe things with a dual nature or function).

For example a sofa cum bed

Can it be used with humans as well like

My friend cum brother?

  • 3
    Use of cum outside of academic circles will be viewed as pretentious, and may not be understood at all. – Robusto Jan 21 '18 at 16:34

It's true that Google Books has 1190 written instances of sofa cum bed, but it also has 343 instances of sofa come bed, which makes a lot more sense to me.

As you might expect, the formal Latin cum (meaning with) is particularly used in academic contexts - such as [to graduate] cum laude = with honour(s).

There's an orthographic quirk whereby to come [to a sexual climax] has led to the unusual noun spelling cum = ejaculate (though the verb form is usually still written as I'm coming!, Did you come?, not I'm cumming!, Did you cum?). So it's possible some "non-academically-inclined" readers might primarily associate the quirky spelling with sexual overtones, not the Latin origin. But one shouldn't pay too much attention to such "snigger potential" (it would often be considered "childish" to even acknowledge it, let alone laugh oneself).

My personal choice would be to write about my friend-come-brother. Which I interpret as a "reduced" form of, say, my friend who can become my brother [in appropriate circumstances].

This distinction only applies in speech, obviously. And I'd hazard a guess that the majority of native Anglophones might not even realise that the majority of published writers use the cum spelling in this construction (because they don't know that spelling at all; most natives Anglophones aren't as knowledgeable about orthography, academia, and Latin roots as most published writers/editors).

As regards OP's specific question (can this construction be used of people?), the answer is it's a complete non-issue. Of course you can.

  • My friend-cum-brother means my friend as well as my brother – user68401 Jan 21 '18 at 16:18
  • Erm... Who's teaching who here? In any context I can imagine, my friend-cum-brother means my friend who also fulfils the role of "brother". That sequence would only normally be used when the friend isn't actually the speaker's biological brother (if he were, the more likely sequence would be my brother-come-friend). – FumbleFingers Jan 21 '18 at 16:23
  • Yeah. It would be brother cum friend if he was my biological brother – user68401 Jan 21 '18 at 16:28
  • But friend cum brother means someone who is my friend as well as like a brother to me. I dont know why all these sayin it aint idiomatic – user68401 Jan 21 '18 at 16:31
  • Among users of American English, "friend-come-brother" would simply not be understood at all in speech. In writing, sufficiently educated readers would view it as a gross mistake for "friend-cum-brother." Nevertheless, I am not going to down vote this answer because I do not know British English sufficiently well to comment on what is definitely not idiomatic. – Jeff Morrow Jan 21 '18 at 16:50

In American English, "brother" is often used as a synonym for "male friend." If it is intended to make clear that a male is a very close friend but not technically a brother by blood or adoption, a phrase similar to "my friend, who is as close to me as a brother" would be used.

The use of "cum," pronounced "coom," is rare in American English and virtually absent outside academic or quasi-academic discourse. The use of "cum," pronounced like the verb "come," in the sense that you are describing is simply not heard in American speech. For example, the common American term is "sofa-bed," not "sofa cum bed" or "sofa come bed."


I see no reason why "cum" can't be used for humans, to indicate two separate roles combined in one person:

I have a chauffeur cum gardener in my employ.

Aside: many place names in the UK use it to indicate two parishes combined as one, such as Shingay-cum-Wendy and it is not always hyphenated. It has the same usage as in the question.

Similarly please see the usage in Oxford Dictionaries for "study-cum-bedroom."

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