November 11th, 2005

pants

"penultimate"

answer the poll first. the reason I bring it up will be posted shortly.

Poll #610478 word of the day-

Without looking it up, cuz that'd be cheating, what do you think the word "penultimate" means?

I have no idea.
0(0.0%)
It's a synonym for awesome- ie, superlative, great, fantastic.
0(0.0%)
It's a synonym for horrible- ie. awful, terrible
0(0.0%)
it means "the last" or "final" of an event, series, etc.
1(2.5%)
it means "the second to last" of an event, series, etc.
39(97.5%)
It's a synonym for "accidental"
0(0.0%)
Temple of the golden ass

why I asked about Penultimate:

Lemony Snicket's new book is called "The Penultimate Peril". It is the 12th book in an announced 13 book series. As "penultimate" is a word that is often misused, I wonder if this book will have a positive effect on the next generation, enabling them to correctly understand "penultimate" as "the thing before the last thing" rather than "if ultimate means 'awesome', then penultimate must mean 'totally awesome'". (Or am I the only person who's ever noticed this misuse of "penultimate"?)

But then I had a thought: what if the book achieves the exact opposite? Since previous book titles include "The Miserable Mill" and "The Grim Grotto", what if today's kids decide penultimate is a word meaning "Something really terrible, especially if Count Olaf does it"? It could totally change the mis-meaning of the word! I wonder if another book in the series, "The Ersatz Elevator", will cause an eventual misuse of ersatz to "evil" instead of 'fake' or 'substitute'.

The other word I see abused in this fashion is "erstwhile", which means "former" and is often used in newspapers phrases like "the erstwhile mayor" . The word seems to have taken a U-turn in popular memory to mean "esteemed" or "flamboyant" or some other generally positive adjective. I was once called "the erstwhile lara7" on a discussion list, which made me wonder 1) what the poster thought he was saying with the adjective and 2) if I was "erstwhile", who was I now if lara7 was my former title or identity?