Penultimate Day of School 2011

If it’s June it must be time for my annual “I love the Penultimate Day of School” blog post.  As this is now my third post on the word penultimate (actually the second post was on the antepenultimate month of school).   In a sense that now makes my first post on the subject the antepenultimate post in the series.   If you feel a bit lost, don’t worry, I’ll clear things up right away. 

You see it all started about four years ago when we were approaching the next to last day of the school year for my children.  In grade school it seems the last or ultimate day of school is usually a half day and is mostly filled with cleaning up, packing up, and a wee bit of partying classroom style. 

That just didn’t seem right to me and my wife so we decided to have some fun the day before the last day (a.k.a. penultimate) of school.  To that end we taught our children the definition of penultimate, made a Facebook page, and sent the children of to test the vocabulary of their teachers. 


Let’s face it, penultimate is a very uncommon word and not very many people know the word, let alone use it.  I personally think it’s a brilliant word.  Let me provide a few examples of just how useful a word it can be.

The sports world is a great place to apply the word penultimate.  Most basketball enthusiasts will by now know that the Dallas Mavericks are the ultimate champions of the NBA for 2011.  That of course makes the Miami Heat the penultimate champions (newspaper ads aside).  It sounds like quite an accomplishment however I’m quite certain Miami fans are not pleased with this result.  It will be another day and a game 7 before we will know the winner of the NHL playoffs.

Penultimate also works well in the business world.  If you happen to work on a web search engine like I do, you will pay attention to the monthly comScore reports on query share.  If you go off the absolute rankings you would end up with the table below

Total Explicit Core Search












Ask Network



Now Bing does power all the searches for Bing and Yahoo so in my mind that of course puts Bing in the penultimate position.  Of course we are aiming to be the world’s ultimate search engine but that will come over time and with executions. 

Arts and entertainment is a category where they don’t even like to use the phrase winner.  Take the Academy Awards for instance.  In that environment when they announce the winner the simply say, “and the Oscar goes to…”  Of course this phrasing was chosen specifically to not bruise any of the inflated Hollywood egos.  For me this is quite frustrating because we don’t have an actual winner and in the case of this year’s best picture category we have quite a few penultimate winners.  Let’s see exactly how many there were, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, Inception (my favorite), 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3 (really?), True Grit, and Winter’s Bone.  I mean “The King’s Speech,” did win, er had the Oscar “go” to it, so that would leave us with nine penultimate winners.  Well clearly art is not a place where the word penultimate can easily be used. 

The spirit of the Penultimate Day of School is simply to encourage young minds have fun with big words.  There are many other great words out there that children can have fun with and in many cases stump the adults around them.  I quickly Binged word of the day and came up with a few sites and several great words.

Lest I too begin to bloviate I will end by simply saying, “Happy Penultimate Day of School.”

Ken Johnston @RKJohnston

Bing Domains Test Manager

External: Twitter | LinkedIn | You Tube | School Board

Author: How We Test Software at Microsoft (with Alan Page and BJ Rollison)

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