Keeping on the topic of vocabulary, I’d like to tell a story of a very unintentional insult given in public.
One Sunday during church, our very well read, well educated, exceptionally intelligent pastor proceeded to introduce a guest speaker by referring to him as being the “penultimate authority”. Can you guess why I and a few others gasped hearing that?
What do you think “penultimate” means?
Wait for it…..
It is a commonly misused word which people think means the “supremely ultimate”, the “best of ultimate”. Hmmm…not quite. It actually means “second to last” or “next to last”. In the context it was said by the pastor, it definitely would be an insult but certainly not one he intended. When I mentioned his error to him, he would not believe me so I challenged him to look it up in the dictionary. He was chagrined to the max, we still laugh about it years later and of course, insert the word every chance we get into our conversations. One Sunday he even inserted it into a sermon to see if I was paying attention.
I have heard very competent news reporters and news anchors misuse the word thinking it is a compliment or positive descriptor. So, one can be quite well educated and still royally mess up a word meaning. It pays to presume the person is merely ignorant of the meaning and intended well.