the penultimate post

Oof. It’s 11:00 p.m., and I have yet to post anything. It would be kinda silly to make it this far into NaBloPoMo and blow it on the penultimate day.

I’m quite fond of the word penultimate. It’s one of those words that gets misused frequently, often in a way suggesting that the user thinks it means something like “more ultimate that ultimate.” But ultimate is just that: final, unique. The end all. Penultimate? It’s the second to last. It’s not quite the be-all and end-all of ultimate.

I suppose that’s much of the appeal. It’s the not-quite. Most of us never achieve the level of ultimate for most things. Who among us will get to be the ultimate authority on some subject? Will we ever achieve ultimate happiness? Ultimate calm? Bake the ultimate chocolate cake? I, for one, am not sure I’d want to. Because wouldn’t that mean I’d reached the end?

Penultimate is a word that gets used frequently in phonology. We talk a lot about the penultimate syllable of word. For example, in a given language it might be the penultimate syllable, or the penult (as many like to call it, skipping the formality of the polysyllabic phrase) that bears the word-level stress. Or you might talk about the antepenultimate syllable. Or even the preantepenultimate. It really amuses me that there is a word that means “4th from the end.” (Mind you, when talking “ultimate” syllables, phonologists tend to say “final.” It’s seems somewhat anticlimactic.)

As usual, there is a backlog of posts I’d like to write, but clearly I’m not going to manage anything of them now. (Have I mentioned that I am a very slow writer? I type, I delete, I re-type, I edit. And often I delete and re-type once more.) So rather than write about something that might take some thinking, I’m apparently going to just ramble on for a bit just for the sake of rambling. Because ultimately, that’s what’s blogging is often about.

Oh, and one last thing, since I like to have at least one picture in a post. Can anyone identify this?

13 thoughts on “the penultimate post

  1. Preantepenultimate?! That’s almost as funny as pants.

    Intriguing photo. I was going to say that it looks like a ceiling tile, but those are usually white and square, something like 1 foot by 1 foot, and this appears to be rather longer and yellow. Is it the back of a very large cheese grater? No… the holes are too circular for that. But it seems like it must be some sort of mesh.

  2. i love the word penultimate as well. i had an artistic director who used it all the time, and I just loved it, because who really uses that in normal conversation?

    and I am please, as well, that today is the last day of NaBlowMe. Whew. We’ve nearly made it.

  3. Acoustic wall panels from the Stata center. I’m sure of it, because every time I end up in one of those rooms they make me nauseous.

  4. The holes are too small for pegboard. I’ll go with speaker cover as well.
    And I love, love Maypole’s take on NaBloPoMo.
    From *paenultimus* – Only the Romans would have made up a word like that – shall we blame Cicero?

  5. I swear: I can remember the feeling of my finger rubbing that metal surface (or something similar to it) over and over again, taking care not to cut myselfm yet I can’t remember what it is. Something food prep related. Potator ricer? The inside juicer of a blender. Now I am intrigued by the word penultimate. It’s imperative I use it in a sentence. Now, did I use the word “imperative” correctly?

  6. I love the word penultimate, too! I try to slide it casually into conversation because it’s such a fun word. Now, preantepenultimate is absolutely fabulous, but I cannot think of a single application for using it in my everyday life. Hmm, maybe if we have three more kids (ha ha ha) I could refer to TG as the preantepenultimate child instead of just the second. Much more interesting.

  7. Thanks for all your comments, and all your guesses about the photo.

    Bshep came closest: it’s actually the wall of a sound-attenuated room. (I think the holes in the wall are actually quite a bit smaller than the acoustic panels in the Stata Center.) You can see a bit of the room in my last post.

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