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I'm struggling with a way to describe one of a series of datetime values that has the greatest value.

My first thought would be to call it the "latest", but the suggests that the event is in the past, not possibly in the future.

How would you describe an event at a time which is after all previous events in the series, and can have already happened or is possibly in the future?

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I would say "last" if it truly is a series in date order. And first for the one with the smallest date. –  Kate Gregory Jul 12 '13 at 17:06
    
I see what you're saying, but that also suggests to me that the date was in the past. If I'm talking about a regularly scheduled event like a weekly TV show, and I said I just watched the last episode, one might think that it was the one that most recently aired, not necessarily the final episode that is scheduled. –  raydowe Jul 12 '13 at 17:12
    
You could go with final. –  Hellion Jul 12 '13 at 17:13
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No (to your comment above). You could say something like "Next week's episode will be the last in the current series." or "The episode on [date] will be the last ...". If, as you suggest you were to say "I just watched the last episode", you would be using "last" incorrectly: you should have said you just watched "the latest episode" or "the most recent episode". –  TrevorD Jul 12 '13 at 17:16
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@raydowe sure, "I just watched the last episode" makes you think of the past, what with being in the past tense and all. And "I can't wait for the last episode" makes you think of the future. That has nothing to do with the word "last". What does "the last episode explains her powers?" make you think? Also, "a series of datetime values" sounds like a computer program, not two people chatting about tv - the latter will always be less formal and precise. –  Kate Gregory Jul 12 '13 at 17:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Introduction

The OP has described a scenario where there is a multiplicity of separate events on different dates, forming a series, such as multiple episodes of a television series. The series of events may be:

  1. wholly in the past, including the distant past and/or the immediate past;
  2. straddling the past, present and future, i.e. at least one of the events in the series is in the past, one may be in the present, and at least one is in the future;
  3. wholly in the future, including the immediate future and/or the distant future.

The OP wants a word (or phrase) to describe the chronologically last event in the series (which he describes as the event having the "greatest (or highest) date-time value"). The chosen word (or phrase) must be suitable for use in all of the situations described in 1 - 3 above.

Choices

A number of different choices of word or phrase have been offered so far in comments and answers. These are:

latest - last - final - next - most recent - most future - farthest (or furthest) date forward

I propose to address these separately, and look at the relevant dictionary definitions of the main contenders.

most future - farthest (or furthest) date forward

Neither of these is suitable if the series of events is wholly in the past, because otherwise the chronologically last event in the series will not be in the future.

most recent

This is suitable only if the series of events is wholly in the past, because otherwise the chronologically last event in the series will be in the future.

next

This is not suitable if the whole series is in the past, or if more than one event in the series is in the future.

last

Dictionary definitions:

last adjective

from Chambers Dictionary
1. being, coming or occurring at the end of a series or after all others.
2. usually applied to dates, time, etc: most recent; happening immediately before the present (week, month, year, etc).
[other definitions not relevant to this question]

from Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO)
1. coming after all others in time or order; final: [examples omitted]
2. most recent in time; latest: last year

from Merriam-Webster
1. after all others : at the end
2. most lately
3. in conclusion

from Dictionary.com
11. after all others; latest: He arrived last at the party.
12. on the most recent occasion: When last seen, the suspect was wearing a checked suit.
13. in the end; finally; in conclusion.

Merriam-Webster Learner's and Longman add nothing additional of relevance.

Discussion

This was my initial first choice, and indeed the dictionaries all show it to have a primary meaning of:

being, coming or occurring at the end of a series or after all others

which would may it eminently suitable. But it also has a secondary meaning of:

most recent (usually applied to dates, time, etc)

which makes it ambiguous when the series straddles past, present and future, because it could refer to the last episode of the series (in the future), but it could also mean the "most recent" episode (in the past).

latest

Dictionary definitions:

latest adjective

from Chambers Dictionary
1. most recent • the latest update on the news.
2. (the latest) the most recent news, occurrence, fashion, etc.
at the latest not later than a specified time.

Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO), Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster Learner's, Longman, and Dictionary.com all give most recent as the primary or only definition.

Dictionary.com also gives last, and Merriam-Webster gives last (archaic)

Discussion

All the dictionaries give the only relevant meaning of latest as:

most recent

which is the same as the secondary meaning of last, and implies that it must be referring to a past event, which would make it an unsuitable choice for the required purpose.

No dictionaries give the required meaning of "the end of a series", but two do give the meaning of "last", although one indicates that meaning to be archaic.

Nevertheless, @FumbleFingers has argued that latest can be and is used to refer to the chronologically last date in a series of dates falling wholly or partially in the future. He has cited references referring to the latest expiry date, latest expiration date, and latest maturity date.

Although I accept that those usages are appropriate, valid, and seen in legal documents, I would argue that that usage is different from the requirement here. In those cases, there is not a series of events: there is one event (expiry, maturity, etc.) but a choice of dates on which the single event can occur. The terminology there refers to the chronologically last date from the available choices of date: it does not refer to a last event because there is only one event.

In any case, the primary meaning of latest as "most recent" rules it out as a choice here, because of the resultant ambiguity.

final

Dictionary definitions:

final adjective

from Chambers Dictionary
1. occurring at the end; last in a series, after all the others.
2. completed; finished.

from Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO)
coming at the end of a series

from Merriam-Webster

  1. coming at the end : being the last in a series, process, or progress

from Merriam-Webster Learner's

  1. always used before a noun
    a. happening or coming at the end

from Longman

  1. [only before noun] last in a series of actions, events, parts of a story etc:
    The final episode will be shown tonight.

from Dictionary.com
1. pertaining to or coming at the end; last in place, order, or time

Discussion

Several dictionaries give the primary (relevant) meaning of final as:

occurring at the end
last in a series of events
after all the others
last in time

This makes it not only a suitable choice, but the only remaining choice without some kind of ambiguity. There could be some minor ambiguity over whether it refers to the final episode of a 'current' series, or to the final ever episode (final episode of the final series), but that seems insignificant in the light of the problems with other choices.

Conclusion

The most suitable choice is final.

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I disagree with your final conclusion. Given the list Jan 2012, Mar 2010, Oct 2011, Dec 2000, I would unhesitatingly identify Dec 2000 as the "final" (and indeed, the "last") date in the list. But Jan 2012 is undoubtedly the latest, since the meaning of that word is unaffected by the list order. –  FumbleFingers Jul 15 '13 at 20:32
    
@FumbleFingers I accept that, and must admit that I was working on the assumption that - if we were talking about a series of episodes - the series was in date order with earliest first. The OP seems so concerned that latest and last could mean most recent. So I'm now not sure that we've come up with any word that is unambiguous and meets the OP's needs. (I still think latest also has the disadvantages I mentioned.) –  TrevorD Jul 15 '13 at 22:47
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I must admit I'm surprised several people seem to think latest somehow inevitably implies in the past. I can understand how dictionaries will tend to support that assumption, since their definitions are likely to say things like most recent. But in ordinary contexts we're always seeing things like "The latest date for applications to be received is [some future date]". The most recent definition is just a convenient short form - it doesn't encapsulate the full scope of the word. –  FumbleFingers Jul 16 '13 at 0:06

OP is simply mistaken in thinking latest must imply the events are all in the past. But he's not alone - I've heard people speak of the highest date in computing contexts, to avoid confusion.

But here are hundreds of thousands of 1000s of instances of latest expiry / expiration date, many of which will involves future dates. That would be my preferred option.

If we suppose OP has a list of date values, I certainly wouldn't advise referring to the last date, since that might simply mean the one that comes last in the list, which might not be the latest.

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I'm not convinced you are right. All the dictionaries I looked in defined "latest" to mean "most recent", and "recent" can't be in the future. You do offer examples, but I think they are more examples of the very confusion the OP is trying to diffuse. I'd go with highest to be safe. –  Fraser Orr Jul 12 '13 at 20:15
    
@Fraser Orr: There's no reason you should be forced to use a form of words you're not happy with, but I didn't really put highest in there as a "better" alternative - it's just that in computing contexts we often treat dates as "scalar numbers", so the usage is at least "credible". But I still think you're still mistaken. Here are some more written instances of latest maturity date, many if not most of which clearly refer to dates which haven't arrived yet at the time of writing. –  FumbleFingers Jul 12 '13 at 21:04
    
Thinking about how to use "latest" to convey a future event made me realize, you are absolutely right! :) See my comment at Jim's answer. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 16 '13 at 2:25

I would use most recent or latest (as Fumblefingers suggested) for past events.

For future events, you can consider most future. (As in, for example, "Tell me the most future date where you have made dinner plans.")

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It is very possible to use "the latest" to talk about a future date, see my modest scenario: A: Let's meet tomorrow 11.30 in the morning. B: Sorry I can't make it for then, I've got something else lined up. A: Well, what about 12 o'clock? B: Still too early. A: So when's the latest you can come? B: I suppose, I could make it for 12.15. A: Better late than never! –  Mari-Lou A Jul 16 '13 at 2:21
    
You make a good point! –  Canis Lupus Jul 16 '13 at 2:39

While is is not elegant, farthest [or furthest] date forward would unambiguously convey what you are trying to express.

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Metaphorically, anyway. This is the Time is Motion in Space metaphor theme, where life consists in travel from earlier to later; naturally, far, distant, close, near, long, short, and many other terms denoting length (and not time) get used to represent duration of states or events. –  John Lawler Jul 13 '13 at 0:53
    
@JohnLawler Numerous dictionaries define farthest to refer to time or the stage of a process, not just physical space. –  bib Jul 13 '13 at 1:15
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That's because these are old metaphors. Real time words, like when and during can only be used for time; anything else is a metaphor. Not surprising, really; we can see distances and motion, but we haven't the foggiest notion what "time" is. –  John Lawler Jul 13 '13 at 3:05

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