[ uhl-tuh-mey-tuhm, -mah- ]
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noun,plural ul·ti·ma·tums, ul·ti·ma·ta [uhl-tuh-mey-tuh, -mah-]. /ˌʌl təˈmeɪ tə, -ˈmɑ-/.
  1. a final, uncompromising demand or set of terms issued by a party to a dispute, the rejection of which may lead to a severance of relations or to the use of force.

  2. a final proposal or statement of conditions.

Origin of ultimatum

First recorded in 1725–35; from New Latin, noun use of neuter of Late Latin ultimātus “ended, finished,” past participle of ultimāre “to come to an end”; see ultimate

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British Dictionary definitions for ultimatum


/ (ˌʌltɪˈmeɪtəm) /

nounplural -tums or -ta (-tə)
  1. a final communication by a party, esp a government, setting forth conditions on which it insists, as during negotiations on some topic

  2. any final or peremptory demand, offer, or proposal

Origin of ultimatum

C18: from New Latin, neuter of ultimatus ultimate

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for ultimatum


[ (ul-tuh-may-tuhm) ]

A formal message delivered from one government to another threatening war if the receiving government fails to comply with conditions set forth in the message. For example, after the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914, the government of Austria sent an ultimatum to Serbia, which Austria held responsible for the assassination.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.