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Animal Collectives. Ann Rynd beware
August 10, 2005 5:42 PM   Subscribe

English names for groups various creatures are often bizarre. Many of the stranger collective nouns came from the Boke of St. Albans. Most lists don't include a "parliament of rooks" any longer. Lists of collective animal names are available for children and adults. Though, oddly there doesn't seem to be a collective name for humans as a species, numerous names (mostly silly) exist for types of human groups. Dispute does exist in the world of collective nouns. Officially monkeys are grouped in "troops", but most people would agree that the proper term for a group of monkeys is barrel . However debate seems to have been closed on the subject of the proper term for a group of tentacle monsters (NSFW). Of course, you have to know how the proper grammar when using collective nouns.
posted by sotonohito (33 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
A ____ of MeFites?
posted by parallax7d at 6:01 PM on August 10, 2005


A. Rynd of MeFites, I think.
posted by goatdog at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2005


A 'group' of humans.
posted by delmoi at 6:08 PM on August 10, 2005


King Crimson sings: "The Orchestra begin" and I'm pretty sure they did it on purpose. Those bastards.

I also used to wonder as a youth how come you could have a hair but not a bread.
posted by Eideteker at 6:09 PM on August 10, 2005


delmoi: sure, it'd work, but it sounds boring when you compare it to parliments of rooks, murders of crows, bloats of hippopotami, etc. I like "an argument of humans" on the grounds that its accurate, and sounds vaguely like something Ambrose Bierce would come up with. Or perhaps "a huddle of humans" if you'd rather go for the Stan Lee style.
posted by sotonohito at 6:15 PM on August 10, 2005


English names for groups various creatures are often bizarre.

There was a skit many years ago on the comedy series Alas Smith and Jones where two crusty old monks were cataloging collective nouns with quill and parchment.

As the skit progressed, the nouns became progressively more ridiculous. A "masturbation of Rhinoceros" was one of them, IIRC.

And even though it was supposed to be funny, it probably wasn't too far from the truth.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:20 PM on August 10, 2005


Isn't it a murder of lawyers?
posted by mike3k at 6:33 PM on August 10, 2005


A prattle of mefites.
posted by interrobang at 6:35 PM on August 10, 2005


Should it be a case of lawyers or a file? A gavel of judges?
posted by X4ster at 6:55 PM on August 10, 2005


I liked "A converting of preachers".

So true, so true...

Also:
A conflagration of arsonists.
A promise of barmen.
A goring of butchers.
A sneer of butlers.
and
A conjunction of grammarians.
posted by Moral Animal at 7:06 PM on August 10, 2005


My favourite is superfluity of nuns. Perhaps we could extend this to mefites/
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:06 PM on August 10, 2005


A quarrel of MeFites.
posted by SPrintF at 7:44 PM on August 10, 2005


A pileon of MeFites.
posted by BT at 7:46 PM on August 10, 2005


I was sure I made up a giggle of girls. I guess I must have heard it somewhere and it lodged in my subconscious. Either that or it's just incredibly obvious. Whichever, that's one of the supposedly silly collective nouns I have occasionally used perfectly naturally in conversation, without anyone raising an eyebrow.
posted by Soulfather at 7:56 PM on August 10, 2005


I think humans aggregate.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:12 PM on August 10, 2005


And isn't it a "thread of MeFites?"
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:13 PM on August 10, 2005


To save this thread from pointless masturbation, I'm actually curious about the social aspects of this sort of language, which I'm not aware of in other languages. Well, that's my first question: is English the only tongue afflicted so?

The second is more of an observation, that whatever purpose this once served, it has become little more than an excuse for puns and neologisms.

The third is spurred by the first list, especially, which lists side-by-side mundane collective nouns such as "a panel of experts" (really? you don't say) and the more exotic ones like "a murder of crows" and then the bizarre ones like "a glozing of taverners". I consider the middle ground here to be the terms that probably actually existed and probably served some reasonable purpose, despite having handy synonyms such as "flock" easily at hand. There were, to be sure, likely regionalist influences as Modern English congealed from local dialects.

But then you get to ones like the taverners, or even a "skulk of foxes", which leads us to the terms that are not just obscure but somehow intended to be emotionally evocative of the given noun's character, such as a "scolding of seamstresses". This is where it goes off the cliff, from where I sit. First of all, how often do you actually refer collectively to a group of seamstresses? A list like this implies that not only did someone once use this term, but it's acceptable and understood broadly, so using the term is preferred. That seems nonsensical to me beyond a certain point.

Here's where parchment and palimpsest begin to overlap with blog and newsgroup. Half of these terms seem more like witticisms than anything people would need to learn by rote. Or did lists like this serve the same social purpose as they do today, eliciting chuckles and the equivalent of Forward to list? They can't have served the ostensible purpose that moderns present them as, which is a serious compilation of mutually intelligible terms, not if they go in for things like a "promise of barmen".
posted by dhartung at 8:22 PM on August 10, 2005 [1 favorite]


Half of these terms seem more like witticisms...

Great post, dhartung.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:26 PM on August 10, 2005


I'd answer some of dhartung's very interesting questions, but I'm currently too busy dealing with a rape of fratboys.
posted by interrobang at 8:31 PM on August 10, 2005


In some corner of the web long since forgotten by me, I saw a proposal for the collective noun "A Spandau Ballet of 80s Enthusiasts."
posted by deanc at 8:45 PM on August 10, 2005


Interesting musings, Dhartung. Adding my little bit, I think terms like "a skulk of foxes" and "a scolding of seamstresses" are perfectly logical - think of how foxes act, particularly when you've seen them and they know they shouldn't be there ;-). It's like onomatopoeia writ large.

In this light, the seamstresses one looks particularly good. You can just imagine several seamstresses huddled around, one of them scolding a naughty child or errant husband, and the others nodding or tut-tutting in agreement...
posted by Pinback at 1:01 AM on August 11, 2005


how often do you actually refer collectively to a group of seamstresses?

Depends upon whether you work in the seamstress industry.

Should we unify them and call the shepherd's flock (which they "watched by night") a herd?

Out of my window I have just spotted a murder.
posted by skarmj at 2:12 AM on August 11, 2005


Perhaps they were gathered from occurences in poems and literature rather than common use.
posted by lunkfish at 2:23 AM on August 11, 2005


A blue state of MeFites.
posted by Devils Slide at 5:13 AM on August 11, 2005


How could we forget A Flock of Seagulls?

They reunited in 2004, you know.
posted by tommasz at 5:23 AM on August 11, 2005


If any UK MeFites watch QI with the awesome Stephen Fry they might recall the recent discussion about the term "a flange of baboons". This was a fictional term apparently coined during an episode of "Not The Nine'O'Clock News" featuring Gerald the Gorilla. This comedy name for the group of baboons has pretty much overtaken the term "troop" in popularity, even with official baboon spotters.

/loves learning useless and bizarre facts from QI
posted by longbaugh at 5:50 AM on August 11, 2005


which leads us to the terms that are not just obscure but somehow intended to be emotionally evocative of the given noun's character

That goes a long way toward explaining "a parliament of owls," "a murder of crows," and my favorite, "an exultation of swallows," but I don't get "a pod of whales" or "a school of fish."
posted by alumshubby at 6:04 AM on August 11, 2005


I'm with Dhartung. Most of these only show up in lists of such terms and to not exist unselfconciously in the wild. Stunt words, they're called.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:15 AM on August 11, 2005


"An Exaltation of Larks" by James Lipton is a great read, and gives wonderful history and detail on pretty much every noun of multitude, or, as Lipton prefers, "terms of venery."
posted by mapalm at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2005


Groups names that should exist:

A kaboodle of kittens
A wriggle of puppies
A mass of priests
A tumble of gymnists
A froth of barristas
A chop of butchers
A stench of school boys
A flutter of virgins
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:27 AM on August 11, 2005


Well, that's my first question: is English the only tongue afflicted so?

It is not quite the same thing, but the Japanese language has different counting words for differnt groups of things.

People: ichijin, nijin, sanjin
Small animals: ippiki, nihikki, sanbikki
cigarettes: ippon, nihon, sanbon

Note: the above is undoubtably full of errors as my Japanese lessons were many, many years ago.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:32 AM on August 11, 2005


My favorite, and one I came up with: more than one dominatrix is a lash of dominatrices.

Yes, I really like that one...
posted by webnrrd2k at 12:42 PM on August 11, 2005


Secret Life of Gravy,
The Micronesian language of Chuukese also uses different numbering words when counting living things vs flat objects, round objects or long items.

One person - Emen
one round object - Efew
one flat item - Eche
one long item - Efoch

Five people - Nimmen
five round items - Mimefew
posted by X4ster at 4:41 PM on August 11, 2005


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