Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Up up up umpteen from Lou

Dear Word Spy,

I have been wondering and wondering for a long time now about two words.

One is trampoline.

The other one is umpteen.

I just realised that they rhyme. Maybe you could throw them into one of your poems. Be my guest.

yours faithfully,


Dear Lou,

Thank you - I will!

As Lou leaped on the trampoline,

She bounced too high and was not seen

For many days, I think umpteen...

BTW, on the subject of those two delightful words, it looks like "trampoline" comes from an Italian word "trampoli" that means "stilts" - I guess it's all to do with being high up above everyone else.

As for umpteen, it comes from Morse Code - you know, all those dots and dashes that soldiers particularly used to send messages with? Well there was a slang expression for it - "Iddy-umpty" which meant "dot dash". So "umpty" by itself meant a dash - and a dash - can be used when you are not sure of the number of something, or you don't want to tell. Like "the mouse was born in 186-". (Wow, that's an ancient mouse all right...)

SO AFTER ALL THAT, umpteen just means an unknown number, by mixing "umpty" with the "teen" ending of numbers like 13, 14 etc.

PHEW! think I'll go write another poem now...

yours dashingly,

The Word Spy

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