Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Shush of Librarians, An Exaltation of Larks, and other collective nouns

I had a great time over the holidays, trolling thrift shops and second hand bookstores in the city. I initially was drawn by the illustrations in this book, but the text makes it a keeper. An Exaltation of Larks or, The Venereal Game by James Lipton is a book on collective nouns.

While many of the ones we are familiar with are included  - such as a parliament of owls or  a plague of locusts - the book was full of terms I'd never heard of. A shush of librarians? A twaddle of public speakers? A murmuration of starlings? Who knew?

The author identifies six categories of "venereal terms" (i.e., collective nouns):

1. Onomatopoeia - for example, a gaggle of geese.
2. Characteristic - for example, a leap of leopards or a skulk of foxes
3. Appearance - for example, a bouquet of pheasants
4. Habitat - for example, a shoal of bass
5. Comment (pro or con, depending on one's point of view) - for example, a richness of martens
6. Error (often resulting from transcription error; apparently a school of fish is corrupted from a "shoal" of fish.

Some are so "out there" they seem made up but, as the author points out, weren't all of these terms "made up" at one point? Eventually they made it into the vernacular. I think an "exaltation of larks" is still one of my favourite collective nouns. What's yours?

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