pên-êl-tê-mêt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Before the ultimate or last, next to the last in a row or series. The one before the next to the last is the antepenultimate.
Notes: The last in a series is the ultimate but the next to last is the penult or penultimate. In today's Good Word, for example, the penultimate syllable is -ti-. In the Polish language, the accent always falls on the penultimate syllable; in French it falls on the ultimate.
In Play: Although it is probably used more in discussing poetry and linguistics, today's word is a good one to use around the house: "But mama, I thought that it was just your penultimate threat to ground me if I don't clean my room!" (Please let us know if you get away with it.) Anything next to last in a series is fair game for today's word: "The penultimate act of Jarvis was to resign; the ultimate act of his day was to take us all out for a drink."
Word History: Today's word comes from Latin pænultimus, comprising pæne "almost"+ ultimus "last". The root of ultimus, the source of English ultimate and ultimatum (a last warning), is Latin ultra "beyond", as in 'ultraviolet rays'. This word is based on the same Proto-Indo-European root al- "beyond" as English else, which indicates what lies beyond all other alternatives. Alternative? Yep, this word itself is also a distant relative reeled in from Latin. (We certainly have no alternative to thanking Harold Vanselow for suggesting today's Good Word.)
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