dazzling nouns
Thursday, 07 November 2013

A comfort of cats... and other dazzling nouns

Have you ever wondered what you call a group of otters, adders, ravens or zebras? A fascinating new compendium has all the answers

A condescension of ACTORS Collective Nouns
This term, describing a pompous actor’s chief characteristic, is attributed to a colleague of the famed linguist Eric Partridge, best known for his Dictionary Of Slang And Unconventional English, originally published in 1937.
Also A cry, a queue, and an entrance of actresses.

A sun of ADDERS

A knot of ASTROLOGERS
This term is also used for witches, so it fits well for a band of astrologers, especially Queen Elizabeth I’s court astrologer, John Dee, a divisive figure in his time who was often seen as the father of modern-age ‘devil worship’.

A rumpus of BABOONS

A cauldron of BATS
Also A cloud, colony, or a hanger. 

A hum of BEES
This shares a kinship with the old company terms collected in the books of venery in that it references the unique song of the bee (as does a charm of fi nches, or chattering of choughs). Thoreau writes, ‘At this comparatively still season, before the crickets begin, the hum of bees is a very noticeable sound.’
Also A charm, a hive, a rabble, or a swarm.

A parliament of BEGGARS

A blush of BOYS
The Book Of Saint Albans lists both a ‘rascal’ and a ‘blush’ of boys, speaking to their dual nature, but they were not mutually exclusive.
Also A leer, a passel, or a riot.

A clowder/clutter of CATS
Clowder is almost certainly an Old English derivative of ‘clutter’. Both words started out as a verb, a variant of clotter (to clot), with clatter and cluster both possessing closely related Germanic origins. Anyone familiar with collective feline behaviour will agree that all these terms are a fi tting description.
Also A comfort, a destruction, a kindle, or a pounce.

A swarm of EARTHQUAKES
An ‘earthquake swarm’ is a genuine geologic term, used to describe clusters of earthquakes that often occur in the same region over the course of a few days to months. ‘Swarm’ implies the menace and danger inherent in such a phenomenon – a ‘flock’ of earthquakes just doesn’t do it.

A pound of ENGLISHMEN Collective Nouns

A skulk of FOXES
A famous skulking fox of medieval French folklore, was ‘that sly, bold Reynard’ (sometimes Reynardine). He was a cunning, cowardly fox, a sort of trickster figure constantly in trouble with his other animal friends and up to various capers.
Also A troop.

A giggle of GIRLS

A bloat of HIPPOPOTAMUSES
Also A crash, a pod, or a thunder.

A couple and a half of HOUNDS
Hunting manuals of the Middle Ages were necessarily very specific about the sporting breeds of dogs. Hounds are counted in pairs as ‘couples’, so if you have three, you have a ‘couple and a half’. 

An imposition of INLAWS

An exaltation of LARKS
Along with being the medieval company term for the lark, it is also the title of James Lipton’s 1968 famous book on the subject of collective nouns.
Also A flight, or a happiness.

An unkindness of RAVENS
Refers to a folk story in which ravens push the young from their nests and adults return the favour by refusing to care for elderly parents.
Also An aerie, a conspiracy, or a constable.

A shiver of SHARKS

A zeal of ZEBRAS

Extracted from A Compendium Of Collective Nouns, with text by Jay Sacher, and published by Chronicle Books, priced £21.99. The book is available at the special offer price of £18.99, including UK p&p, by calling 01903-828503, and quoting ref 50436.

ILLUSTRATIONS BY MARK FAULKNER, EDUARDO LIMA FILHO, HARRIET LOGAN, MIRAPHORA MINAWOOP STUDIOS


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