Writting Tools: Let’s Not Be Least Bothered About “Last”

Writting Tools: Let’s Not Be Least Bothered About “Last”

I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark -- Thomas Hobbes, British philosopher.

Staff ReporterUpdated: Saturday, December 23, 2023, 11:17 PM IST
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Writting Tools: Let’s Not Be Least Bothered About “Last” |

Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Sixteenth century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes taught us how to use the word “last” as an adjective. In the first line of the above quote, he used the word “last,” and, in the next line, he justified it, saying “a great leap in the dark.”

But many writers, editors, reporters, students and teachers are often confused about the use of “last.” They are tempted to use it “for most recent.” Instead of writing “last issue of a magazine,” one must write last week’s issue or the latest issue.

The word “last” has many meanings. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says when it is used as a noun it means, a footprint, a track or a trace. For example, Mark ate the last of the ice cream.

In Oxford English, it means a boot or a shoemaker’s model of the foot, for shaping and repairing boots and shoes, but not shoes. It also signifies commercial denomination of weight, capacity or quantity, varying for different kinds of goods and in different localities.

“Last” also means “continuance” or “duration.” It sometimes signifies “to follow (to carry out a command, a promise (pay tribute) and maintain peace. It can also be used as an intransitive verb to describe a state of things, a period of time, continue, endure, go on.

We must have had a lot of wine because our party lasted long after everyone left – L Hellman Whence in perpetual fight they needs must last Endless, and no solution will be found – John Milton It may also mean to hold out, fresh, unbroken, unimpaired and effective.

His prose, unlike his poetry, has not lasted well – Graham Green. I have enough cash to last for two or three days – J Rhys As an adverb, adjective and noun, it means after all others in a series.

When did you see him last? – Shelley Ten days have passed since I last addressed you – W S Churchill It is used to mean as the final thing to be mentioned or considered: in the last place, lastly.

First my fear, then my curtsy, last my speech – W Shakespeare, Henry IV “Last” also signifies in the end or finally. Pleas’d with his idol, he… Adores: and last, the Thing ador’d, desires – Dryden It means following all others in time, order, series, succession, or enumeration, subsequent to all others in occurrence and existence.

It is the last night we may be together – HB Stowe I … read the Oxford edition from the first page to the last – RK Narayan SOED further says it means belonging to the final stages, especially of a person’s life or the world’s existence, relating to death or the end of the world.

The last moments of men who died in hospital – V Britain It also signifies the concluding, last remaining, or most recent part of a thing.

For example, the last day of a month. She’s down to the last of the elderflower wine – Dylan Thomas In Usage and Abusage, Eric Partridge writes: “Last can mean ‘most recent,’ but should be replaced by latest where there is danger of ambiguity, as in his last novel.”

“Last” used to mean “end” should be avoided. Towards the last of the chapter is an example of incorrect use of last. (box) “Last week” is best avoided.

Similarly, if you write “last year” in 2023, it means 2022; if you mean the 12 months up to the time of writing, you should say the past year. The same goes for the past month, past week, past (not last) ten years. Likewise, “last week” is best avoided; anyone reading those words several days after publication may be confused. We should prefer a date, or recently.    

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