As a youngster, I understood the meaning of the word ultimate to mean the most excellent, the finest, the final statement of quality. One day, I heard somebody use the word “penultimate”. In my little brain, I figured that penultimate was even better than ultimate. I began to use the word in conversation because it just seemed more impressive to me and my pals. That is until my fifth grade teacher called me out on it.
I found out that penultimate is one of those quirky English words that fools the eye and the ear. It was an anticlimax to find out that penultimate is merely second to the last. Learning the actual definition of the word deflated my feelings in the same way that coming in second place in a footrace leaves you feeling.
Even more peculiar is the word for the third to the last in a series, antipenultimate. That makes no sense to me at all. I think the word is a British usage term. It seems to me like their word for counterclockwise, anticlockwise. Similar to how the Brits spell color as colour. And the trunk of a car is called the boot. The English language certainly is odd.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, today is the penultimate day of 2012. The 30th of December is a good illustration of the meaning of penultimate. There’s no real fanfare going on around the world about the second to the last day of the year. Tomorrow is a big day and the evening is even bigger. People won’t go out on penultimate day parties, throw around confetti and get drunk en masse. No, all of that is reserved for the ultimate day of the year, tomorrow.
Tomorrow is even a bigger deal than the legal holiday, New Year’s Day. The first day of the year is an anti-climax. If I could coin a word, New Year’s Day is the “antiultimate” day of the year.
When I think of all the penultimate events and things there are in life, it takes me longer to remember them.
I can’t remember the penultimate day of my high school attendance. It’s difficult to remember the penultimate day at my last job. While I can perfectly visualize the smoking of my very last cigarette many years ago, the penultimate cigarette doesn’t register even a flicker of memory. I suppose this is just a matter of mental housekeeping. From time to time, we need to declutter. The penultimate usually gets thrown out.
Penultimate comes up in sports quite frequently. In the Masters Golf Tournament, the penultimate day of competition features the awarding of several trophies. I can’t remember the penultimate team in NFL football this year. However, I do remember that the Pirates are the penultimate Major League Baseball team because they lost the World Series to my Giants.
I wasn’t much of a hotshot in school athletics. I only remember one outstanding moment. I was the penultimate finisher in the 200 metre dash during a junior high track meet. As an adult, I once came in second place during a fun -run to raise funds for an anti-AIDS charity. I was awarded a handsome certificate and a blue ribbon as the prize.
If it’s your birthday, you hope to eat your favorite food, not your penultimate dishes. I certainly want a slice of chocolate cake to top off the meal. Vanilla is yummy too, but it’s my penultimate choice.
Some of us are fortunate to live their ultimate, dream lifestyle. Most of us, though, settle for the penultimate, antipenultimate or lesser version of how we really want to live on earth. Why must we usually settle for second-best?
Here’s an eerie thought, most of us don’t know when will be our own, personal, penultimate day. Doesn’t that make you want to live your life more in the present?
The Blue Jay of Happiness will be celebrating the penultimate day of the year in a traditionally, pacific fashion.