Wouldn't we all like to see a group of teenagers being referred to as a grunt of teenagers, or a parliament collectively being referred to as a lie of politicians?
WHAT do you call a group of ferrets? No, this isn't a joke. There is no punchline. A group of ferrets is correctly called a business of ferrets: business being the collective noun. WriteStuff came across the image above last week and, to be honest, it took a few seconds to get it. The collective noun for a number of crows is a murder. Therefore two crows, and not a larger number of them, is an attempted murder. See, linguistics can be fun…. really, hilarious.
Collective nouns for animals are sometimes referred to as terms of venery. The word venery comes from the Middle English and French vernerie meaning hunting. Terms of venery came into use in the English language when the Norman aristocracy (of French descent) in England made hunting a sophisticated pastime, not just a means of survival. With a sophisticated pastime came sophisticated terminology – as the French do ever so well.
Most of these have been codified in The Book of St. Albans – a sort of 15th century guide to being a gentlemen, but more specifically about hunting. The business of ferrets was originally a busyness and anyone who has seen a number of ferrets can see why. And so a number of deer became a herd; dogs, a pack; doves, a flight, ducks, a bunch (when on water) and a string (in flight); trout, a hover; tigers, an ambush; and starlings, a murmuration or congregation.
You can perhaps see why some of the above as named as they are. If you are hunting tigers and come across more than two or three, I'd day an ambush is a pretty good name for them (a group of widows is also called an ambush, but more of that later). But what of some the stranger terms of venery? A number of ravens is called an unkindness, lapwings are collectively are called a deceit and jellyfish a smack.
Collective pronouns are often sadly ignored, and people often refer to a group of leopards. But why should we, when they are correctly referred to as leap. We are well-used to a pride of lions or a troop of monkeys, why not use a leap of leopards? We have a pod of dolphins, so why not a parliament of owls or pandemonium of parrots. The English language is far more colourful for the use of terms of venery.
Over the years collective nouns also came into use for groups of people or professions. These may at first have been factious, but many are now in relatively common usage. A faculty of academics, a cast of actors, a troupe of gymnasts, a band of thieves, a cavalcade of horsemen – all pretty standard.
But what of a wheeze of joggers, a rash of dermatologists, an entrance of actresses, a squeal of nieces or a flock of tourists? With a little more use these could be standard usage within a few years. Wouldn't we all like to see a group of teenagers being referred to as a grunt of teenagers, or a parliament collectively being referred to as a lie of politicians?
A rather entertaining list of collective nouns for people and professions can be found here. Some we use every day, some just need a little encouragement. By the way, a group of writers is called a worship. We didn't make that one up.
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