Thursday, September 14, 2006

Venereal Terms

When we talk about "venereal terms," we are not talking about sexually transmitted diseases. No, we are talking about those fabulously descriptive collective nouns that characterize groups of things. There are literally hundreds of these terms, many of them in use since the 15th century when they first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. They were originally used by hunters to identify groups of animals, but over the centuries the list has grown to include groups of just about anything. We use them all the time: a flight of stairs; a herd of cattle; a bunch of grapes; a wad of bills; a deck of cards. Perhaps you've heard some of these more colorful ones: a gaggle of geese, a congress of baboons, a kettle of hawks.

The practice of creating collective nouns continues today with "The Venery Game" being quite popular amongst the word game set. The goal is to come up with new phrases that may (or may not) make their way into common usage. (A new one that recently caught my attention was "a vanity of blogs".)

What I'd like to give you today is a short list of my own personal favorites. Some you may have heard, others probably not. Enjoy.

  • A pace of asses
  • A cete of badgers
  • A poverty of pipers
  • A thought of barons
  • A singular of boars
  • A rascal of boys
  • A wake of buzzards
  • A clowder of cats
  • A murder of crows
  • A threatening of courtiers
  • A convocation of eagles
  • A gang of elk
  • A business of ferrets
  • A giggle of girls
  • A prickle of hedghogs
  • A siege of herons
  • A crash of hippopotami
  • A bask of crocodiles
  • A cowardice of curs
  • A charm of hummingbirds
  • A rout of knights
  • An exaltation of larks
  • A mischief of mice
  • A superfluity of nuns
  • A parliament of owls
  • An ostentation of peacocks
  • A gaze of raccoons
  • A conspiracy of ravens
  • A crash of rhinoceroses
  • A rout of snails
  • A murmuration of starlings
  • A hover of trout
  • An ugly of walruses

This short list represents only a handful of these clever collective nouns. You can find a far more exhaustive list in An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton, a must-read for folks who want more.

Reference: Wikipedia: collective nouns


Blogger Edward Hethel said...

Wonderful - these are all favorites of mine as well.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish that there were a way for me to distinguish venereal terms that have been attested in established usage from products of people's horsing around. So someone calls a group of nuns a 'superfluity.' Is that noted in literature or science somewhere, or is it some some secular person's swipe at those who dedicate their lives to God in service? What terminology has stood the test of time, and what's cynicism or jest?

4:30 AM  

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