Fact Check

Cake Inscriptions Gone Wrong

A compendium of mortifying examples of cake inscriptions gone wrong.

Published Jul 7, 2007


Legend:   A compendium of mortifying examples of cake inscriptions gone wrong.


[Collected via e-mail, October 2007]

We had a "going away" party yesterday for a lady at our Little Rock claim office. One of the supervisors called a Wal-Mart and ordered the cake.

He told them to write: "Best Wishes Suzanne" and underneath that write "We will miss you."

As the picture shows, it didn't quite turn out right. It was too funny not to keep it.


[www.readersdigest.ca, 1992]

For my 40th birthday, my husband decided to surprise me with a birthday cake from our local bakery. "In the middle please print 'Happy Birthday Nita,'" he instructed them over the phone. "Then, 'you're not getting older' at the top and 'you're getting better' at the bottom."

When he went to pick it up, he discovered that they had decorated the cake with the words exactly as he had said them. "Happy Birthday Nita, you're not getting older at the top, you're getting better at the bottom."

[www.readersdigest.ca, 1997]

When my mother-in-law ordered a cake for my wedding anniversary, she made a point of instructing the bakery, "That's Thompson with a 'p'." Later when she went to pick her order up, she noticed that on the box they had written "Mrs. Phompson."


Origins:   The possibility for a miscommunication disaster exists any time orally-delivered instructions are issued. So many words sound like so many others, and instructions the speaker believes were stated clearly can land upon the ear of the person they were directed to in garbled form.

When the final product of such exchanges is to be rendered in written form, those errors can become glaringly obvious.

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, and publishing pictures of such mishaps on web sites has become something of a cottage industry. But even before the advent of such sites, tales of cakes gone wrong were commonly reported in the print media, as demonstrated by some of the following examples:

[The New Yorker, 1942]

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 Birthdays' — plural."

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.

One interesting cake misdecoration tale has the error occurring not in the message, but in the icing.

[Florida Times-Union, 2007]

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.

Numerous visitors to this site have also thought to tell us about their encounters with misinscribed cakes:

[Collected via e-mail, 2007]

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:

Happy Birthday
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.

Even floral tributes are not safe:

[Collected via e-mail, 2007]

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."

Misinscribed cake tales point out the pitfalls of entrusting others (even trained bakery workers) with the task of executing in icing one's heartfelt sentiments — sometimes the wrong message will work its way onto the baked goods. As with another food preparation legend (fancy cake purchased at a bake sale subsequently presented to guests as the hostess' own handiwork), the risk inherent to not doing the job oneself is brought home in these stories of cakes gone wrong.

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 2015


    MacDonald, Dan.   "Here's One Recipe for a Cake Disaster."

    Florida Times-Union.   22 June 2006   (p. E1).

    Thompson, Sherry.   "Life's Like That."

    www.readersdigest.ca   1997.

    Warren, Nita.   "Life's Like That."

    www.readersdigest.ca   1992.

    The New Yorker.   "The Talk of the Town."

    18 April 1942   (p. 12).

    Sydney Morning Herald.   "Column 8."

    6 July 2007.

    Sydney Morning Herald.   "Column 8."

    26 April 2003.

    Sydney Morning Herald.   "Column 8."

    23 April 2003.