Penultimate — it's one of my favorite words. When I first heard it, I thought it meant that the event or thing in questions was even more ultimate than the ultimate. Penultimate is such an elegant word, so luxurious in the mouth, that it had to mean something great. It was somewhat of a letdown to discover that it meant "next to last" or not quite ultimate. That really took the shine off of the word for me for a while.
But I've come back to it. At first, it was probably due to the smugness that wordies like me feel when we know the true meaning and usage of a word that many people use incorrectly. I've often heard penultimate used the way I imagined it as a child. Every time I hear or read the misuse, I take out my mental Sharpie pen and correct it. There's such satisfaction in being right. It turns a pet peeve into a gleeful moment of triumph.
But the real attraction of the word is that there is something hopeful about being the penultimate. It means there's still one more chance after this one to get it right; one more opportunity to enjoy something wonderful. Penultimate may not be the "ultimate", but it also isn't the final, the last, the end.
Geez, I'm a geek. Who else takes so much joy in parsing words? If you do, come sit next to me. Leave and comment and we'll discuss. Thanks again, Lisa