Harold Camping

Last and past

One of the minor fetishes still observed on The Baltimore Sun’s copy desk is an invented distinction between last and past.

If a reporter writes that “the students have been violently ill for the last four days,” a copy editor will change last to past. The thinking is, I suppose, that those are not the last days of the illness but merely the most recent, up to this point. We presumably imagine that if last were allowed to stand, the reader would assume that all the students had died.

I suspect this of being some Talmudic extension of the AP rule not to confuse recency with finality—an author’s last book being...