Friday, February 16, 2007

The Daily Hump: Umpteenth

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
I've recently been rereading Through the Looking Glass and this quote in particular got me thinking, not so much of its deeper meaning but rather the name Humpty, and by association, umpty. No, Humpty and umpty are not related but umpty is the root of our word umpteenth. In Morse code umpty is the slang term for the dash. In military slang this somehow also came to mean an indefinite number, usually large. Analagously, a dot is referred to as an iddy, thus the OED defines a strange-looking term iddy-umpty as a "conventional verbal representation...of Morse code."

Interestingly, Humpty Dumpty did not begin life as an egg. Rather it's an alcoholic drink we find in the later 17th c. made from ale boiled with brandy. But perhaps it's Digital Underground who best sums up the relationship between Humpty and umpty:
My name is Humpty, pronounced with a Umpty. Yo ladies, oh how I like to hump thee...The Humpty Dance is your chance to do the hump

Humpty Dumpty [Online Etymology Dictionary]
umpty [Online Etymology Dictionary]
umpteenth [AHD]
The Humpty Dance []


:: posted by David, 8:23 AM


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