Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The ultimate ruling on penultimate

Wallace Shawn's character in The Princess Bride continually used the word “inconceivable.” Mandy Patinkin's character noted, “you keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Let’s have the ultimate ruling on another word that’s often used in ways that the user doesn’t mean… “penultimate.”

“Sole Mio (one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, long since closed, the victim of rent increases we suppose) has the penultimate tiramisu” we were once told by a friend.

“She is the penultimate ride” one of our male friends once said about a car (or a woman, we can’t remember which).

We cast our idiot flag upon those usages.

Unless they meant that the tiramisu or ride/babe in question was the one just before the last one, they were making one of the ultimate vocabulary faux pas.

As an aside, isn’t it interesting that “faux pas” is the plural of “faux pas?” But we digress…

Penultimate: second from the last. November is the penultimate month of the year. Ultimate: final or best. The run is the ultimate leg of most triathlons. BMW is the ultimate driving machine.
N.B. if you really want to show off, “antepenultimate” is the one before the penultimate.


Debra Snider said...

There is little I love more than a fellow headcase on proper usage, grammar and punctuation. It is delightful to know that I am not cringing alone. Bravo, Stephen!

(I feel compelled to add that this will likely not be my penultimate, ultimate or antepenultimate comment on Idiot Flags.)

Brenda Bates said...

Stephen, what took you so long? Brilliant. May I add for your consideration the nasty habit of turning nouns into verbs?

Anonymous said...

My daughter, age 10, was correctly using all three (ultimate, penultimate, and antepenultimate) this weekend. This is not difficult, nor is it necessarily blog-worthy.

Jacob's Mom said...

Although I am not known for my proper grammar/spelling (so no critiquing this comment) or etiquette for that matter (oh, I almost forgot, that's you Stephen, not me ;-) Even I know the proper use of penultimate. And I used to get such pleasure hearing my old manager use it improperly on an almost daily basis. Ahhhh, the simple pleasures in life! And of course, it would take all the fun away to correct him! Schadenfreude!!!!

Kristin said...

I would love to hear your thoughts on "irregardless". Wiki tells me its a Boston thing, and sure enough the person I know who says it the most is from...Boston. which of course made me laugh my hiney off.