Q&A: Upmost vs utmost

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdnessThis week we are doing our utmost to clear up an issue over upmost!

Q: Hi AWC, I’ve been working on a new app. Want to see it?

A: Wow, sure – okay.

Q: Here we are. It’s for people who want to go deep sea diving but have no one to go with. This will tell you if there is someone in the area willing to take you. I call it SCUBER.

A: Um.

Q: Thinking about a fishing one too, SCUBER Eats?

A: Are you really going to make this?

Q: Actually, to be honest, it’s quite difficult. I have the upmost respect for anyone who makes apps…

A: Whoa. No you don’t.

Q: Yes, I really do. It’s tricky enough coming up with an original icon that incorporates a shape, colour and letter.

A: No, we meant that unless there are a bunch of you all respecting the process, and you’re standing higher than the others – then you’re using “upmost” incorrectly.

Q: “Upmost” respect? How can that be wrong? It’s like a superlative; it is up AND it’s the most. Like that guy in that film I can’t remember the name of… you know the one, with the house and all the balloons.

A: Up?

Q: Oh yeah.

A: We’re not saying “upmost” isn’t a word. It’s just the WRONG word.

Q: Hmmph.

A: “Upmost” is an adjective that essentially means “uppermost”. You’ll still find it listed in dictionaries, including Macquarie, but it has fallen well out of favour – and people tend to just use “uppermost” instead these days.

Q: Well, except when they’re using “upmost” incorrectly!

A: Well, true. It does get used a lot for the wrong reasons!

Q: So can you give me an example of how “upmost” should be used?

A: Sure. “Can you fetch that book over there on the upmost shelf?”

Q: In your example, were you talking to a dog?

A: Yes, it was a clever, literate dog.

Q: I certainly hope it’s one of the bookshelves with a ladder on wheels.

A: Of course it is. And when the dog reaches the upmost rung of said ladder, they will be able to reach the book in question.

Q: Okay. So if I don’t have “upmost respect”, then what do I have?

A: Surely you peeked at the title already, but it’s “utmost”.

Q: Utmost??

A: Utmost.

Q: What does “ut” even mean? Is it short for “utter respect”?

A: It is not.

Q: University of Technology?

A: Again, no.

Q: Urinary tract?

A: Okay, that’s a wee bit off topic. In actual fact, “utmost” comes from 14th century Old English “utmest” meaning “outermost” – a superlative for “the most distant point”. It has since broadened to mean “the greatest” or “to the highest degree”.

Q: I guess “to the highest degree” probably explains why people use “up” incorrectly, yeah?

A: True. “Utmost” is a superlative adjective, for example: “It is of the utmost importance” or “to travel to the utmost regions of the land”.

Q: Or, in my case, to have “the utmost respect” for app makers?

A: Yes. But it can also be a noun. “I will do my utmost” for example.

Q: So to recap, “upmost” probably never needs to be used at all – “uppermost” does a better and more recognised job. But for describing something in a superlative nature, you need to utter “utmost”.

A: Correct – get it wrong, and you’ll look very silly. But you’re right about apps – they can be tricky to create.

Q: Actually, I’m working on another one that connects you with pearls of wisdom and freshly baked cookies as if your nana or grandma were there with you. I’m going to call it “instagran”…

A: Maybe we’ll load our chats onto “instagrammar”…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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