A word in the hand: ULTIMATE
Will the season of reruns never end?
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
One of the most abused lines in Shakespeare is “Now is the winter of our discontent”. It is misused because that’s only the first half of a quote, which in this mutilated form has become popular for all the wrong reasons.
The whole sentence goes: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.”
Never mind who said it about whom and why, the point is that the speaker (oh alright, it was a chap called Gloucester) was not moaning about the current state of the weather or his mood. He was saying that things, which had previously been a bit miserable, were looking up remarkably. Life was suddenly much brighter and happier because the “sun of York” (King Richard III, if you must know) had arrived.
In other words, Gloucester was in very good spirits. Chopping off the second half of his line is doing him a disservice. It’s like having Juliet say: “A rose by any other name would smell.” Only worse.If you have watched the ultimate episode in your favourite TV series and are feeling lost, bereft and rudderless, finding fault with misquoted phrases is one way to pass a rainy afternoon. Another is on the addictive website Shakespeare’s Words, which has a search tool that allows you to find out where, when and how many times Shakespeare used any word.
If you must know, Will – or whoever Will was if Will was not Will – used “winter” 47 times in his plays and 10 times in his poems. “Rose” was even more favoured. It blooms 61 times in the plays and 14 times in the poems.
“Hedgehog” appears but once, also in Richard III, where someone uses it on the king as an insult after he has stopped making everyone’s lives sunny. This seems a bit unfair on hedgehogs but no one is perfect, not even Shakespeare.
Some words are significant by their absence. Shakespeare never, ever used the word “ultimate”. Not even once. Not even right at the end.
However you feel about 16th-century English poets in puffy shorts and stockings, there is ultimately something to be said for a man who stayed away from ultimate.
I do wish someone would give ultimate an ultimatum. It doesn’t need to be a final ultimatum, because that’s a tautology, like the last and final call for outstanding passengers, or that horrific scourge, “revert back”.
Ultimate, all on its own means the end, the last, the close, the place beyond which no moving on or going forward is possible. Yet, in the world’s frenzied search for superlatives, everything is ultimate.
Pedantically speaking, if you buy someone the ultimate gift, that’s the last gift the poor person will ever receive. Shops that advertise the ultimate scatter cushion do not realise that what they are actually doing is putting themselves out of business, because after that there will be no more scatter cushions for them to sell.
There is a TV cooking show called The Ultimate Braai Master – it uses the word correctly because it refers to the last braai master left standing when all others have been hauled off the coals. But it has run for five seasons to date, so which of the five ultimate braai masters is the ultimate ultimate braai master?
Like Shakespeare’s winter, the word “season” has endured some rough treatment. Once the preserve of weather, salt and soccer, season has changed with the leaves and has of late been appropriated by the makers of television series (which, incidentally, is plural as well as singular, so stop saying “serieses”).In small-screen parlance, episodes of a TV series made to run consecutively, usually encompassing some sort of a narrative arc from beginning to end, make up a season. Whether you spread them over autumn and winter or watch them all in one weekend, they are still a season. There might be anything between three and 30 episodes in a season. There might be four seasons or 17 seasons.
Seasons of series like Game of Thrones can go on for ever, but everyone understands that when the ultimate season is announced, it means the last one, not the best one. Why can everyone else not learn to use the word ultimate this way too? (Part of the problem, I suppose, is that we can’t take to heart everything television tells us. There might very well be another season after the ultimate season, if a producer decides that resurrection can be profitable.)
Ultimate has a friend in that favoured phrase of fluff-peddlers, “the last word”. How often have you heard about something being the last word in luxury? Only it never is, because luxury can never keep its trap shut. There are always more words to come.
Ultimately, we’d like to see the end of some of these annoyances. But we are probably never going to see the ultimate season of Game of Thrones. Or the ultimate end of discontented winters.