Latest vs. Last

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Chandan writes:

I am confused between usage of word ‘LATEST’. Basically, it is being used in two opposite situations:
1. meaning late or last – “Return my book latest by Monday”
2. meaning most recent – “This is the latest book.”
How is “latest” is used in 2 opposite contexts?

English is often blamed for confusion and ambiguity that stems not from the language, but from the use of the language.

As an adjective, latest has the meaning “most recent.” Ex. This is the latest book. Here’s the latest news.

In order to use “latest” adverbially, with the meaning “at the last possible moment,” it needs to be placed in a phrase. Ex. Return my book on Monday at the latest.

Here are some quotations with the correct use of the term on newspapers:

… jacket, the artist Christo stood on a platform looking over the Serpentine lake one April morning and watched his latest creation come to life. As ducks glided across the water, men in orange jumpsuits began assembling the installation … (www.nytimes.com)

… of strategy and doctrine on cyberwarfare is less a product of inattention than of the still-early stage of this latest technology of destruction. The lack of doctrine and especially the lack of consensus on controlling destructive … (www.nytimes.com)

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3 thoughts on “Latest vs. Last”

  1. Brits often say “…by Thursday latest” (dropping ‘at the’), though when I checked this with a British friend he told me to speak properly and use the full phrase.

  2. “Thursday latest” makes a whole lot of sense… Think I’ll adopt that, thanks.

  3. It does seem to be one of those situations where two senses of a word collide syntactically due to dropped short words. While both of the senses have a chronological basis, the first deals with absolute time and the second with relative time, i.e. sequential order.
    Mulling it over, it feels like the proper sense should be able to be determined from context, but of course poor writing (or speaking) can confuse.
    Being sure to include “at the” before “latest” seems a small price to pay to keep the sense distinct.

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