November 18, 2011
ultimatum (noun)
\ul-tuh-MAY-tum\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
: a demand that if rejected will bring about an end of peaceful talks and could lead to forceful action
How do you use it?
While the company considered the labor union's ultimatum, its workers prepared to walk out on strike if negotiations failed.
Are you a word wiz?

We're not issuing an ultimatum, only asking that you try to answer today's quiz. What do you think was happening around the time that "ultimatum" first came into English?

If you picked answer B, you're a word wiz and a history buff! The first known use of "ultimatum" in English appeared in the early 1700s. That appearance was not long before George Washington, then an adjutant under Britain's Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, was dispatched west to issue a warning to the French to get out or be forced out. "Ultimatum" was a word the French would have recognized, too. Both French and English speakers of the 18th century used "ultimatum" in the same way, having borrowed it from Latin, in which it is a form of the word for "final."
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