This tidbit jumped out at me from an interview about grammar and usage at Literary Hub:

What’s a common mistake people make?

I’ve heard people use “antepenultimate” to mean something even more ultimate than ultimate: ultimate super plus, like extra-high octane gas. Ultimate means last. “Pen” is the suffix for almost, so penultimate is almost the end. (Peninsula is “almost an island.”) Antepenultimate is before (ante) the second-last, or third from last. So it’s not as good as ultimate. 

I have never heard that usage! But it is so entertaining. Somehow it really tickles my fancy to think of “antepenultimate” and simultaneously recognize exactly the error that’s been made while also parsing the word so that it’s completely clear that it actually has to mean “third from the last.”

However, I can’t believe it’s actually a common error. I mean, “penultimate” is not at all common to begin with, and then adding “ante” before it? I’m almost sure I’ve never heard that. Have any of you heard anybody say or write “antepenultimate, either with the correct meaning or the incorrect meaning?

If the word does become common, I suppose it will be with the meaning “superultimate,” and then how funny it will be to know that the literal meaning is “before the almost last thing.”

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7 thoughts on ““Antepenultimate””

  1. We use it in this family – it amuses us. I’ve never heard it from anyone else.

    Something is goofy with the literary hub link (here and at PV, which also linked to the article), I get a ‘do you mean git hub’ page instead of going to the article.

  2. Same here. It is a fun word. Here is another one to amuse you: postpenultimate.

  3. Rachel Neumeier

    Oh yes, I love “postpenultimate”! I am going to start using both.

  4. Rachel Neumeier

    I have just got to find a way to causually slip “preantepenultimate” into a casual conversation.

  5. Michael Fricke

    These terms are commonly used in organic chemistry. If you have a multistep synthesis, the final compound before your target is the penultimate. The molecule before the penultimate is the postpenultimate. Never heard them used outside of chemistry.

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