‘Penultimate’ versus ‘Ultimate’

Here’s where people can show some real stupidity, but let me give some background first.

I was just watching the World Baseball Classic on TV when an announcer, discussing the anniversary of outfielder Roberto Clemente’s elevation to the Hall of Fame in 1973, referred to him as “the penultimate Puerto Rican baseball player.”

I’m sure he thought penultimate meant beyond ultimate.

Egads, folks, penultimate means “next to last,” while ultimate means “beyond, tops.”

In origin, penultimate comes from the Latin paene, meaning “almost,’ plus ultimas “last.” So penultimate means literally “almost last.”

Unfortunately, in modern vernacular to many non-discriminating speakers and writers, penultimate has taken on the meaning of “beyond ultimate.”

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