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I happened to learn the word “umpty” in association with “umpteen” appearing in the following sentence in the article titled “Obama’s Gitmo Problem” in May 24 New York Times:

Late Wednesday afternoon, President Obama made his big national security speech — in which he said, for the umpteenth time, that the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed.

Both Merriam-Webster online dictionary and Readers English Japanese Dictionary at hand define ‘umpty’ as ‘such and such,’ in the same wording with an example, ‘umpty percent of all new houses’ in Merriam Webster. It sounds like simply saying ‘a certain’ or 'X' against an unidentifiable number or thing.

While both ‘Free dictionary’ and ‘Dictionary com’ define it as ‘an indefinite, fairly large number’ in the same wording.

Though implications of ‘such and such’ looks different from ‘an indefinite, large number’ to me, are all saying the same thing, or there are two different meanings in this word?

Neither Cambridge nor Oxford Dictionary carries this word. Is ‘umpty’ popular English word?

Can you give me a couple of examples of the use of “umpty” other than ‘umpty percent of something’’?

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In America we no longer use the term umpty. We do, however, use the term umpteen (or perhaps umpsteen) See dictionary.reference.com/browse/umpteen?s=t. It means simply an indefinite, but large, number. "I'm telling you for the umpteenth time, Harry, I do not want to buy your car!" Obviously, the person who refuses to buy Harry's car is annoyed with Harry for his persistence. –  rhetorician May 26 '13 at 1:30
    
Related or Duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/a/35023/14666 Where did the word “umpteenth” come from? –  Kris May 26 '13 at 7:39
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Kris. I’m not asking the etimology of this word, which is easily available from Google research. I’m asking the meaning, of which definition is different by source. By the way you look particularly interested in my questions. Can’t you tell me why you care my question so much, notwithstanding dozens or hundreds of new questions come into the site everyday? Are you a fan of my questions, or a maniac who likes to keep casting down / close vote no later than an innocent user posts a question. I’m curious. I think constant and habitual down / close voting practice is egregiously unfair and mean. –  Yoichi Oishi May 26 '13 at 9:17
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@rhetorician: As for umpteenth being "large," that's an interesting point. Initially, I thought I wouldn't use umpteen to describe anything much more than, say, a hundred, but, as I thought about it some more, I'm not sure that's really the case. For the umpteenth time, Oklahoma was hit by a tornado. For the umpteenth time, McDonald's sold a hamburger. I have no problem with either one of those. So, how large is umpteen? It seems to be "large enough to cause some exacerbation," whether that's four times (for the persistent Harry) or 100 billion times (for the corporate monolith). –  J.R. May 26 '13 at 9:44
    
I've never come across the word umpty in British English, and it's not in any of Chambers, ODO (Oxford), and Collins online dictionaries. –  TrevorD May 27 '13 at 0:14

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Umpty is a rare word and does not have a well-established meaning. The vast majority of uses in the Google corpus are as a nonsense word or placeholder (e.g., “Mr. Umpty Ump.”). The Online Etymology Dictionary notes the placeholder sense “of an indefinite number” (1905) and how it relates to umpteen (1917, WWI army slang). This latter word did catch on, with the related meaning “relatively large but unspecified in number.”

In summary:

  • Umpty means “placeholder” or “unspecified number.” It is not a common word.
  • Umpteen means “unspecified (large) number.” It is a relatively common word.
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I only hear umpty in the phrase umpty diddly which means "a lot". (Examples from a web search - you won't need to click any links, just look at the previews of the results, where you'll see "don't wear them out with umpty-diddly phone calls about silly things", "If you are going to sue somebody for umpty-diddly dollars", "the hard-copy books I've accumulated over umpty diddly years" and so on.) That's a British usage - Americans use diddly to mean none at all, especially in diddly squat. In general ump is a placeholder syllable so umpteen means "ten plus something" and umpty means "ten times something" and umpety ump means "mumble mumble something something". Placeholders.

I don't see a distinction between ‘such and such’ and ‘an indefinite, large number’ in this context. They both mean "a number I am making up." If you were sure that less than 1% of all new houses met some criteria, and someone said that umpty percent did, you might argue with them and say something like "no way! I think it's hardly any, less than one percent even!". This is because umpty, like twenty, thirty, forty, etc suggests a multiple of ten. A largish number for percentages.

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protected by tchrist Jul 1 at 15:58

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