Printable Version
Pronunciation: êl-tê-may-têm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A peremptory demand, the strongest possible command. 2. Final point, ultimate aim.

Notes: Today's Good Word is based on the adjective ultimate [êl-tê-mêt] or the now archaic verb ultimate [êl-tê-mayt] "to complete, to carry to a conclusion or end". The verb brought with it a noun ultimation "the process of bringing to an ultimate result". Although the regular plural (ultimatums) is widely used now, the Latin form (ultimata) is still available.

In Play: Ultimata usually imply some sort of retribution if the ultimatum is not followed: "Mom issued an ultimatum: we should clean our rooms, or be grounded for a week." The second sense of this word remains in the Oxford English Dictionary, though its list of examples goes no further than the 19th century: "The ultimatum of Sedgewick's dreams was an invitation to one of Maude Lynn Dresser's soirees."

Word History: The origin of this word is the neuter of Latin adjective, ultimatus. This word is the past participle of ultimare "to be final, to end", based on ultimus "last, final", the superlative of ulter "beyond, on the other side". We see it again in ulterior "remote". Ulter is a Latin concoction containing an alteration of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) al- "beyond" + -ter, a common suffix. The PIE root appears unaltered in alter "the other (of two)", as in alter ego and alternate. Greek has allos "other, different", Latin, alius "another, other, different", and German, ander "other", where L assimilates to N quite naturally. By the way, the regional name Alsace resulted from the Latinization (Alsatia) of Old Germanic Ali-sazzo. Ali came from the same PIE al- + sazzo "inhabitant, settler", literally "sitter". (It shouldn't take an ultimatum to get a show of gratitude to Gordon Wray for recommending today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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