I try not to get too upset with poor use of language, improper spelling or grammar mistakes, but the little language devil on my shoulder is always there, hopping up and down, poking his pitchfork into me and daring me to laugh – especially when the offender is someone in a position of power and is attempting to impress his minions with big words he saw somewhere. (Perhaps in the latest management book lying in his superior’s office)
In my world words, syntax and grammar are important. Imprecision, ambiguity, overloading and just plain improper use of words causes problems. Lots of problems. So perhaps you’ll forgive my penchant for precision in language use.
I had a manager by the name of John – we’ll call him John for this little story. John had a bit of a complex. He was a smart guy, but he didn’t go to college. He was a self-taught computer programmer and worked his way up the ladder of a well-respected software development company. He had many bright (and some not so bright) programmers working for him. While he normally was easy to get along with, he did carry a chip on his shoulder to try to prove to all the college educated folks that he was at least as smart as they were. I don’t think most of us cared one way or another, but John cared. He cared enough to make sure he used the biggest words in the office. Apparently big words are impressive and mean more than little words. It didn’t particularly matter if the words were correctly used or if they were pronounced correctly. The point was to use them. And use them he did. This is a story of one such word.
John ran weekly Monday morning meetings. I never really thought they were useful meetings, (but that is for another rant) and I went, because, well, we all had to be there. John was excited about a new project he had just been told our team was to engage in. He was visibly excited about it. Obviously he had big plans for us and for how much overtime we were going to put in so he could look good for his bosses. His right hand did the usual twitch/tick/twirl of the cell phone holder clipped to his belt, and he rocked back and forth on his heels as he told us the plans.
Apparently beside himself with excitement over the project and lost in the moment, he told us that to him, this was the ‘penultimate’ project. Some people nodded, fully grasping his meaning – that if ultimate was the best, then penultimate must be even better. Others just stood or sat waiting for the meeting to end. Still to this day I regret not raising my hand to ask what the last project was going to be, and could we just skip to it instead of having to do this next to last one. Perhaps it is for the best. I did not want to lose my job at that point. It was the ultimate.