Wednesday, August 03, 2011

WNW: Two Definition Blunders

Whether I'm reading a book or editing a manuscript, I tend to notice misused words. (I do, however, maintain the right to have typos and mistakes here on my blog. Just sayin'.)

Some of these are misused word pairs, which I've covered before on Word Nerd Wednesday (see the homophones posts HERE and HERE, with more to come), but others aren't word pairs. Instead, they're terms we often assume mean one thing but really mean something else.

Today's we're focusing on two commonly misunderstood words and their real meanings. Both words are often mixed up because they sound like they're emphasizing the core word. Not so.

This word sounds really cool. It sounds like "the ultra ultimate," of something, so whatever it's describing, it must be way awesome.

The real definition isn't nearly so spectacular: penultimate simply means the second to last.

If you're a reader and know this series, here's a way to remember it: The second to last book in The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket is The Penultimate Peril.

That book isn't the ultimate peril. (You could argue that other books have worse perils.) It's just the second to last conflict that the Violet, Klaus, and Sunny face as they try to foil Count Olaf. It's the second to last book in the series. It's the penultimate volume.

Back in eighth grade when I created a writing and reading club focused on (shocker, I bet) L. M. Montgomery, I wrote a newsletter and included stories we wrote in it.

One of my stories included the term infamous, meaning (I thought) someone (my hero) who was really, really famous.

Turns out that infamous means someone or something is dastardly or "bringing infamy." It's having a bad reputation, which could mean the person is famous, but if so, it's specifically for a doing bad things. A good example of an infamous person would be Ted Bundy the serial killer.

So, yeah. Not my hero and heroine.


Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great tips, Annette. I even shared it on Twitter. Have a good one.

Kristina P. said...

I definitely use infamous correctly, and know that is penultimate, but I forget about that one!

Heffalump said...

I knew the right definition for infamous, but didn't know penultimate. Now I can start calling my daughter my penultimate will sound really important anyway!

Susan Anderson said...

Aren't words interesting? I love them!



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