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I came across the following phrase in a story (set in Australia):

So the fact that I'm forty-five and you're eleventy-seven means nothing to me. If other people have a problem with that, then it's their problem, not ours.

The character is obviously talking about age difference, but is "eleventy-seven" translate to an actual number? Or is it an Australian colloquialism for "really old"?

I tried to search for the phrase, but all I found were pages about a musical group of the same name :)

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I'd like to see more of the context. From what I gather it could be the 45 year old is with an 18 year old, but they are in denial to refer to the 18 year old as such. I say this because of the second sentence. If other people have a problem with that, then it's their problem, not ours. –  MVCylon Jul 27 '11 at 13:27
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This reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien's "twelvety" urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=twelvety And by that number system, it would mean "eleventy seven" was 117. –  Urbycoz Jul 27 '11 at 13:31
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Best I can tell, the character is approximately retirement age, probably in his 60s? So she's definitely not being literal about him being 117 years old :). His reply to her was (I assume similarly joking) "Eleventy-seven was ten years ago." –  BradC Jul 27 '11 at 13:35
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If I remember right, there was a Calvin & Hobbes strip about math that involved "eleventy-seven". In any case, it's used as a nonsense number out of LotR context. –  zzzzBov Jul 27 '11 at 17:12
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I would say it means: I'm 45 and you're much older than that. –  GEdgar May 8 '12 at 0:49
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6 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

It's either a real number

110, It is also known as "eleventy", a term made famous by linguist and author J. R. R. Tolkien (Bilbo Baggins celebrates his eleventy-first birthday at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings) and derived from the Old English hund endleofantig. When the word eleventy is used, it may indicate the exact number (110)

Therefore using extrapolation we can assume the author meant 117.

OR

an example of an indefinite (or exagerated) number

inexact terms of indefinite size, used for comic effect, for exaggeration, as placeholder names, or when precision is unnecessary or undesirable.

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Accepted for the link that includes other gems like buckets, couple-few, "forty-leven", oodles, scads, and (my personal favorite) a metric load. Not on the list, but I sometimes use a "crap ton" to mean a large amount, or perhaps a "metric crap ton". –  BradC Jul 27 '11 at 21:22
    
@BradC: I suppose then, that eleventy-seven could just be a much smaller version of zillion or gazillion. –  J.R. Oct 30 '12 at 5:15
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In The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins was 111 years old and he called it "eleventy-one".

“Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday: I am eleventy-one today!”

So if the speaker is serious, it would make sense to infer eleventy-seven means 117. But since this is not a normal way of speaking about the number 117, and because people don't often reach 117 years old (or, if they do, it IS significant), it's hard to tell if the speaker literally means 117 or just means "some big number that is much higher than 45". You'll have to determine that from the rest of the story.

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Yup: LotR is certainly where I learned this phrase. As far as I know, there is nothing regional about it - people all over the world use "eleventy-[number]" as a semi-humorous and semi-indeterminate large number. –  Marthaª Jul 27 '11 at 13:56
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From Urban Dictionary:

An imaginary number to be used when you have lost count of something and you need to verbally state a quantity.

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So is it a distinctly Australian phrase? Or is it also used in the UK? (I've never heard it used in the US.) –  BradC Jul 27 '11 at 12:23
    
@BradC: This is the first time I've heard it, so I don't really know. :( –  Gurzo Jul 27 '11 at 12:25
    
In AmE, it is used mostly by children as more of a repeated analogical neologism when counting by tens: seventy, eighty, ninety...eleventy. 'Twelvety' just doesn't sound right. –  Mitch Jul 27 '11 at 13:27
    
I have heard it before though not commonly in the US. –  Chad Jul 27 '11 at 13:32
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It's used quite commonly in the UK. –  Waggers Jul 27 '11 at 15:25
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In this case, the speaker is using "eleventy-seven" as an arbitrary number; the point is, the age-gap between the speakers is large, but he doesn't care. He could have gotten the same effect by using a number much larger or smaller than her actual age:

The fact that I'm forty-five and you're seven means nothing to me.

The fact that I'm forty-five and you're 120 means nothing to me.

Using a made-up number adds a bit of sarcasm/humor, emphasizing the point that he doesn't care about her age.


I've heard "eleventeen," "threlve," and "a zillion/dillion/gajillion" used as humorous-sounding made-up numbers in similar contexts before. (A friend of mine always used to offer me "threlve doll-hairs" for whatever I currently had in my hand)

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My American father has used this word all my life. He would pronounce it more like "Leb-in-dy seven" so as to emphasize that it was a fake number. He would always use it when someone asked him how old he was, or if he was describing how much effort he put into something he didn't want to do. "I must have scooped eleventy seven dog poops..." -- something like that

His grandfather was a southern American born cowboy type who ran farms and bred horses, and his great-grandfather was English. He definitely learned this phrase from his side of the family.

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I would say it means 117 year old, i.e. very old, but I'm not 100% sure.

Source: my two months experience in Australia

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