Alert: this post has nothing to do with S+S or operations or testing but it’s a small slice of life that I just had to share.


“P” words such as penultimate, pontificate, plethora, plebian, and polyglot have failed me more than once.


Have you ever found yourself reaching for that perfect word?  Sometimes it’s when you are writing but other times it might be in the middle of a conversation or, heaven forbid, a debate around the conference table or marker board where you don’t have the luxury of looking up the definition to make sure you are picking the right word.  There you are in real time reaching back for that perfect word and one comes to you and out it goes.  Everyone pauses, turns and looks at you and you realize that is not the word you meant to use. So much for my credibility.


In my life that has happened mostly with a set of multi-syllabic “P” words.  I’ve used penultimate instead of ultimate to mean the pinnacle or zenith, polyglot instead of plethora, and pontificate thinking I was just being smart.  I’ve worked through my issues with all those words except for penultimate. 


penultimate - second to last: second to last in a series or sequence, “the penultimate chapter”

Definition from


It’s just not one of those words used much in American English.  We are so focused on the winner or the next big thing or sometimes even the underdog that we rarely consider what or who came next to last.  It doesn’t matter to us whether it was an elite group to be a part of in the first place.  If you didn’t finish first or second, it doesn’t matter.


Some notable penultimates of the past few months of 2009:

·         Kentucky Derby – Friesan Fire

·         Indianapolis 500 – Driver Ryan Hunter Reay

·         Car and Driver 10 Best Cars – 2009 Porsche Boxster and Cayman

·         Overall American League Standings (as of this post) – Baltimore Oriels with a .431 winning %

·         My son’s finish in the sack races at Field Day this year


I have decided, however it is time for me to find a way to work the word penultimate into my life and in order to do that I have emphasized it with my children.  We unofficially created a new iHoliday last year at the end of school.  We call it “The Penultimate Day of School!”


I’ve been ruminating on this idea for about a year now.  Last year, my kids were all excited that the next day would be their last day of school for the year and they were upset that it wasn’t here yet.  I then seized upon the opportunity to explain to them that this day was very important.  It was the penultimate day of the school.  When I explained what penultimate means, they got so excited that they started announcing it to everyone they saw.  “I’m brilliant!” I thought to myself.   But actually, by their enthusiasm, they created a day for which Hallmark should make cards.


Let’s face it, penultimate is a very funny sounding word.  Most adults that hear it will give you quite the odd look.  But upon learning the definition, the penultimate day of school was born.  We all agreed to go to school that morning and share this new and titillating word by wishing everyone we met with “Happy penultimate day of school.” 


The children in their classrooms all giggled at this greeting, but had no clue what it meant.  The teachers were all taken aback to hear a word they didn’t know from such a small child using it with significant confidence.  


At the end of the day there were a dozen or so individuals who now knew what the word penultimate meant and they now had a good place to use it, at least once a year. 


Now there are many other good places to use the word penultimate, the penultimate lap of the Indy 500, or the penultimate game of the season, or the penultimate batch of salmonella tainted produce are all good examples.  If I were to write an article on the rankings of search engines I would love to write, “Microsoft’s new Bing service is climbing but is still the penultimate search engine.” 


Still it feels awkward to use the word penultimate and it is such a good word.  The world needs a time and a place to use the word penultimate and I have decided to try and help this great word along.  I am creating and promoting a new holiday, one born solely of the internet and social networking.  This new holiday will be called the “Penultimate Day of School” and will be celebrated at every school in every part of the world and will be celebrated on the next to last day of school.


The rules of the Penultimate Day of School are quite simple.  Students are encouraged to hail their fellow students and faculty with, “Happy penultimate day of school.”  They are also encouraged to use as many big words as they can in conversation.  They can even carry a thesaurus with them and whenever possible substitute a multi-syllabic word for a more common word.  Penultimate Day of School is a day to revel in the use of really, really big words. 


Since everybody is so excited for the start of summer, the best place to use the word penultimate is to describe the next to last day of a school year. 


For 2009 I have a modest goal to simply double the involvement of parents and students in Penultimate Day of School.  I have launched a Facebook page to promote the event and soon should have a SharePoint site where I hope students may post Penultimate Day of School thank you notes to teachers and faculty.  Happy Penultimate Day of School, everyone!


I promise that the next post will get back to S+S testing.  For more on that subject read chapter 14 of “How We Test Software at Microsoft.”



Comments (3)
  1. R.K.Johnston says:

    Some Penultimate Day of School References in the Wild

    "Your in Love Charlie Brown" –,_Charlie_Brown

    High Point School Principle Leaves (2004) on the penultimate day of school –

    The Museum Closes on the Penultimate Day of School (2007) –

  2. I remember the happiness of the word penultimate those days back at school. =(

    But now, it’s a common goodness, you know, one shares happiness in family, with friends. =D

  3. R.K.Johnston says:

    Kind of funny have a slice of life posting that has nothing to do with S+S and yet it has more to do with all of us than any other post I’ve made.  Have fun being a new father Javier, you will soon get to re-live the "Penultimate Day of School" again.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content