Collectively, an oddity of beasts : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

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Collectively, an oddity of beasts

London: A headmaster has spent four years scouring the English language to compile what is believed to be the most exhaustive list ever of collective nouns for living creatures.

Mr Steve Palin's quest led him to explore evidence from manuscripts dating back to the 15th century, delve into the publications of obscure 19th-century curates, and re-examine long-forgotten hunting books.

He uncovered the odd, such as "a smuck of jellyfish"; the unfamiliar, "a grist of bees"; and the unintended, "a bale of turtles", which originally entered the language because a medieval clerk made a bad job of copying the expression "a dule of turtle doves".

"It's been a labour of love," Mr Palin said. "And I suppose it's a bit of a crusade.

"Language corruption - things like the wandering apostrophe - have been a hobbyhorse of mine as a head teacher. Many collective nouns are beautiful, but they have been lost.

"I would like people to be aware that these words exist because they are delightful, not just in themselves, but in the way they have come about."

Mr Palin's new book, A Menagerie of Animals, and its companion volume, A Dissimulation of Birds, list 423 ways to describe gatherings of 178 different types of animals, including fish, birds and insects. Many derive from the English love of hunting.

"Animals associated with hunting have the most collective nouns associated with them," Mr Palin said. "In medieval times, there would be a social stigma involved if you didn't know the right words for a flight of goshawk, or a covey of partridges."

He said: "An unkindness of ravens comes from the myth that the parent birds would expel their young from the nest if they failed to develop glossy back plumage. The offspring would then repay the unkindness by refusing to look after their parents when they got old."

The Telegraph, London


I would have it as 'a calamity of politicians'
'an unkindness of forum censors' (the unkind cut of all?)
'?a? flood; of Al-d,s=fervour'

Regards from Down Under

-- Pieter (, May 28, 2000


Can't say I wasn't tickled by the wandering apostrophe comment.

"a smuck of jellyfish" I'm wondering now about the origin of a very popular manufacturer of jams and jellies in the U.S. Smuckers.

-- Anita (, May 28, 2000.

A "polly" of optimists?

A "bunker" of pessimists?

A "doom" of EZboarders?

A "ban" of EZ moderators?

A "fleece" of Y2k book authors?

A "heller" of egomaniacs.

A "flint" of ...

...Oh oh, the dog is circlin' and sniffin' like it's gotta "go". Perhaps somebody else can finish the list...

-- CD (, May 28, 2000.

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