As a historical researcher, I still occasionally come across a word which I don’t recognize, but in the beginning, there were two words I saw repeatedly in the newspapers which absolutely drove me bonkers. I could not, just from the context, figure out exactly what they meant. I could guess. But guessing in this business isn’t ideal and hardly satisfying.
The two words were “instant” and “ultimo.” Now, of course, I was familiar with the word “instant” as we commonly use it today. However, the way it was being used in the articles didn’t appear to have anything to do with speed or immediacy.
For example, an article might say: “Mrs. Fancypants departed for town at precisely ten minutes past noon on the 6th ultimo and arrived in town at 3pm on the 18th instant.”
Say what now?
I asked the librarian in charge of the archives, but even she didn’t know what those words meant in that context.
However, a quick Google search easily solved my confusion.
It turns out that, when used this way, “ultimo” means “of last month” and “instant” means “of the current month.”
So the example sentence above could be rewritten as: “Mrs. Fancypants departed for town at precisely ten minutes past noon on the 6th of last month and arrived in town on the at 3pm the 18th of the current month.”
So there you go.
The next time you’re digging through old newspapers, you’ll know exactly what the reporter is trying to convey.