There are umpteen ways to be ambiguous with numbers and scads of reasons to be vague. Take the following three statements:
* The are 1.4 kilometers in one Sheppey * We ate a sh\*t ton of bacon for breakfast * After drinking umpteen bullfights, I vomited on her shoes
Statements like the first example are used when you require accuracy. These are used when the actual measurement is known or important. The second statement is of the form where the actual amount isn’t actually important. The most important part of the statement is that you had bacon. The delicious amount is irrelevant. Finally, sometimes you just don’t know what the heck happened last night. The number is relevant, but unknown. Indefinite numbers like “umpteen” make their appearances here.
So what is an umpteen anyway? An umpty is an indefinite number. Umpty can also be used as slang for a “dash” in Morse code. Umpteen is just a colloquialism of umpty and -teen, as in numbers greater than twelve but less than twenty. Unless you are throwing holy hand grenades at killer rabbits, it generally takes a number greater than twelve to have any humor value. Numbers greater then twenty are tedious and difficult to visualize in our minds.
Next time you refer to a number, think about what you are saying and how accurate you are being. After saying “umpteen” for the bazillionth time, I thought I should probably understand where the word comes from.