An Emily Flake cartoon in the May 6th New Yorker:

Word play exploiting an ambiguity in ultimate.

(Hat tip to Serene Vannoy.)

From NOAD2, the two relevant senses of ultimate, the base sense (the one in penultimate) and an extended sense (the one in ultimate frisbee):

being or happening at the end of a process; final: their ultimate aim was to force his resignation.

• being the best or most extreme example of its kind: the ultimate accolade.

On ultimate (frisbee):

Ultimate is a team sport played with a flying disc. The object of the game is to score points by passing the disc to a player in the opposing end zone, similar to an end zone in American football or the in-goal area in rugby. Players may not run with the disc, and must keep a pivot while holding the disc.

While originally called ultimate frisbee, it is now officially called ultimate in many areas because Frisbee is registered as a trademark, albeit genericized, for the line of discs made by the Wham-O toy company. (link)

(So ultimate ‘ultimate frisbee’ is a nouning by truncation.)

Finally, on the word element pen(e)- (a prefix-like combining form), from Quinion’s affixes site:

Almost; nearly. [Latin paene, almost.]

A peninsula (Latin insula, island) is a piece of land almost surrounded by water; something penultimate (Latin ultimus, last) is last but one in a series of things; a penumbra (Latin umbra, shadow) is the partially shaded outer region of a shadow cast by an opaque object; a peneplain is a more or less level land surface produced by erosion over a long period; a process in geology that is penecontemporaneous occurs immediately after deposition of a particular stratum, almost contemporary with it.

3 Responses to “penultimate”

  1. Julian Lander Says:

    So would the pen be mightier than the sword because a penesword would include the area near the sword, and hence cover more area than the sword itself?

  2. Three penultimate comments | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on my posting on penultimate (in penultimate Frisbee) took three directions: a comic association with […]

  3. Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] ‘very best’, and the ultimate of Ultimate Frisbee. (On penultimate, ultimate, etc, see this posting.) The effect of the set-up is to license what sounds like a massive attack of […]

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