murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Discuss word origins and meanings.

murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by trolley » Wed Feb 21, 2007 7:43 pm

It started out as a simple question. Why do they call a flock of crows a “murder of crows”? I used my best friend but couldn’t find anything in any past threads relating to this topic. After “Googling” for answers, I realized that this peculiar habit of assigning (apparently) unrelated words as collective nouns for groups of animals was far stranger and more wide spread than I had imagined. A “knot of toads” and a “sleuth of bears”?
Who’s in charge of the rules? A “vague of pot-heads”?

Posted - 28 Jul 2004 : 00:32:13
I was just wondering if anyone was aware of why a flock of crows were called a "murder" seems weird to me!! tina from bc, canada.

Posted - 21 Aug 2004 : 23:49:01
My name is Veronica from Atlanta, GA, USA. I have exhausted just about every site and resource on the internet trying to find the origin of the collective noun: "murder of crows". Can anyone out there help with this? It would be much appreciated!
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Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Feb 22, 2007 10:39 am

Posted on: 22 Mar 2004 17:58
From: The American Society of Crows and Ravens
(A.S.C.A.R.)
A "murder" of crows is based on the persistent but fallacious folk tale that crows form tribunals to judge and punish the bad behavior of a member of the flock. If the verdict goes against the defendant, that bird is killed (murdered) by the flock. The basis in fact is probably that occasionally crows will kill a dying crow who doesn't belong in their territory or much more commonly feed on carcasses of dead crows. Also, both crows and ravens are associated with battlefields, medieval hospitals, execution sites and cemeteries (because they scavenged on human remains). In England, a tombstone is sometimes called a ravenstone.
Reply from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)

Posted on: 22 Mar 2004 17:58
How about Assassination of Sparrows?
Reply from ( - )

Posted on: 22 Mar 2004 17:58
Whacking of wolverines?
Reply from ( - )

Posted: 22 Feb 2007 02:39

see
An Exultation of Larks
or, The Venereal Game

by James Lipton
Grossman Publishers
1968

"A Doctrine of Doctors"
"A Worship of Writers"
"A Flush of Plumbers"
"An Unction of Undertakers"
(An even larger group:
"An Extreme Unction of Undertakers")

gdwdwrkr
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Post by Bobinwales » Thu Feb 22, 2007 11:32 am

Once upon a time I played in a band for a team of clog dancers. We often rehearsed in an old hall with a wooden floor, and in truth there were times we couldn't hear our own instruments never mind the others in the band. We coined, "A Clatter of Cloggies".
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murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Feb 22, 2007 6:56 pm

John, This is a lovely topic and if you want to pursue it further I highly recommend An Exaltation of Larks (The Ultimate Edition - 1991, 1993) by James Lipton (324 pages). The 1968 edition, recommended by James, which I started with many years ago, has subsequently been vastly expanded and improved in the Ultimate edition. It’s a beautiful book both visually (the illustrations are fantastic in every sense of the word) and contentwise. The first chapter, a snippet of which I offer below, goes into the history of the naming process.

From Exaltation of Larks - Chapter I: The Beginning

In 1906, thinking that he had rid himself of Holmes and Watson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle returned to the literary form with which he had begun his career fifteen years earlier, producing a historical novel, Sir Nigel. In it the young Nigel comes under the tutelage of Sir John Buttesthorn, the Knight of Duplin, head huntsman to the King, and England’s foremost authority on the hunt.

“The old knight shook his white head . . . ‘There is so much to be learned there is no one who can be said to know it all,’ said he. ‘For example, Nigel, it is sooth that for every collection of beasts of the forest, and for every gathering of birds of the air, there is their own private name so that none may be confused with another.’

‘I know it fair sir,’

‘You know it Nigel, but . . . none can say that they know all, though I have myself pricked off eighty and six for a wager at court, and it is said that the chief huntsman of the Duke of Burgundy has counted over a hundred . . . Answer me now, lad, how would you say it if you saw ten badgers in the forest?’

‘A cete of badgers, fair sir.’

‘Good, Nigel—good, by my faith! And if you walk in Woolmer Forest and see a swarm of foxes, how would you call it?’

‘A skulk of foxes.’

‘. . . Now, had it been boars . . .?’

‘One says a singular of boars.’

‘And if they had been swine?’

‘Surely it is a herd of swine.’

‘Nay, nay, lad, it is indeed sad to see how little you know . . . No man of gentle birth would speak of a herd of swine; that is the peasant speech. If you hunt them it is other. . . . What call you them Edith?’

‘Nay, I know not.’

‘. . . But you can tell us Mary?’

‘Surely, sweet sir, one talks of a sounder of swine.’

The old knight laughed exultantly. ‘Here is a pupil who never brings me shame! . . . Hark ye! Last week that jack-fool, the young Lord of Brocas, was here talking of having seen a covey of pheasants in the wood. One such speech would have been the ruin of a young squire at the court. How would you have said it Nigel?!

‘Surely, fair sir, it would have been a nye of pheasants.’

‘Good Nigel—a nye of pheasants, even as it is a gaggle of geese or a badling of ducks, a fall of woodcock or a wisp of snipe. But a covey of pheasants! What sort of talk is that.’
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ."

Obviously, at one time or another, every one of these terms had to be invented—and it is also obvious that much imagination, wit and semantic ingenuity has always gone into the invention: the terms are so charming and poetic it is hard to believe that inventors were unaware of the possibilities open to them, and unconscious of the fun and beauty they were creating. What we have in these terms is clearly the end result of a game that amateur philologists have been playing for over 500 years.

Bear in mind that most of these terms were codified in the fifteenth century, a time when the English language was in the process of an expansion—or more accurately, explosion . . .
[The Egerton Manuscript, the earliest surviving list of them, dates from about 1450; The Book of St. Albans, the most complete and important of the early lists (and the seminal source for most subsequent compilations), appeared in 1486]
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The reader may have noticed that, until this moment, I have avoided giving a single, comprehensive collective term to these collective terms. That is because there isn’t any. Oddly enough, the compilers of the numerous lists of these words, though obviously enthusiastic philologists, have never felt compelled to settle on a term for them. The explorer in the field will find these words referred to as ‘nouns of multitude,’ ‘company terms,’ ‘nouns of assemblage,’ ‘ collective nouns,’ ‘group terms,’ and ‘terms of venery.’ The last seems best and most appropriate, and itself warrants some explanation.

‘Venery’ and its adjective, ‘venereal’ are most often thought of, of course, as signifying love, specifically physical love. From Venus we have the Latin root ven which appears in the word venari, meaning ‘to hunt game.’ Eric Partridge, in his etymological dictionary Origins, asserts that the ven in venari has its original meaning: ‘to desire (and therefore to pursue),’ and he sees a close connection between it and the word ‘win,’ from the Middle English winnen, and even the Sanskrit vanoti, ‘he conquers.’ It is in this sense that venery came to signify the hunt, and it was so used in all the early works on the chase, including the earliest known on the subject of English hunting, Le Art de Venery, written in Norman French in the 1320’s by Edward II’s huntsman, Master William Twici.

So, if the earlier, more knowledgeable experts in this field have left it to someone in the twentieth century to select the proper term for these proper terms, I (cautiously and with boundless and well-founded humility) pick up the gauntlet and declare for ‘terms of venery,’ if for no more cogent reason than that it smacks more of the field than the classroom, and, in its adjectival form, more of Gomorrah than Grammar.

So be it. Henceforth we are talking about terms of venery or—occasionally, judiciously—venereal terms. [[So be real careful when in a group that is not familiar with the terms of the hunt not to strike up any casual conversations with any ladies in which you enquire about their venereal interests and whether they’d seen many malocclusions of beavers in the area lately. (<)]

Before beginning the list of authentic terms [[he later has lists that he invented]], a word is in order on the etymological differences among them. The venereal Order seems to me to break down into six Families, according to the apparent inspiration for each term. I will list the six Families as:

1: Onomatopoeia]: for example, A MURMURATION OF STARLINGS, A GAGGLE OF GEESE.

2: Characteristic: A LEAP OF LEOPARDS, A SKULK OF FOXES. By far the largest family.

3: Appearance: A KNOT OF TOADS, A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS.

4: Habitat: A SHOAL OF BASS, A NEST OF RABBITS.

5: Comment: (pro or con, reflecting the observer’s point of view): A RICHNESS OF MARTENS, A COWARDICE OF CURS.

6: Error (resulting from an incorrect transcription by a scribe or printer, faithfully preserved in the corrupted form by subsequent compilers: A SCHOOL OF FISH, originally ‘shoal.’ [[note: A surprising number of words in the English language, outside of collective nouns, are also a result of spelling/transcription/typesetting errors]]
________________________

Under A MURDER OF CROWS Lipton has the following:

The term appears in the oldest of the manuscripts, Egerton, as a Mursher of Crowys. By 1476 it had become the more easily recognizable Murther of Crowes in The Hors, Shepe & Ghoos
________________________

Oxford English Dictionary

MURDER noun: A flock (of crows). [One of many alleged group names found in late Middle English glossarial sources. Apparently revived in the 20th century.]
________________________
<circa 1475 “A MORHER OF CROWYS.”—‘MS Porkington 10’ in ‘Transactions of the Philological Society (1909),’ page 53>

<?1478 “A MURTHER OF CROWES.”—‘ Lydgate's Horse, Goose & Sheep’ (1822) by Caxton, page 30>

<1939 “Birds . . . Terms which represent noises or cries . . . CROWS, MURSER.”—‘Language of Field Sports’ by C. E. Hare, xxi. page 132>

<1960 “Among word-collectors some of the most prized items are those nouns describing an assemblage or ‘company’ of beasts and birds. The collection, comparison and usage of such archaic, fanciful terms as a shulk of foxes or a gam of whales has generally been an adult diversion but now the poet, Eve Merriam, and illustrator Paul Galdone have provided a picture-book introduction to the subject. Granted the 5-year-olds and possibly even 8-year-olds may not fully recognize the appropriateness of ‘A SHREWDNESS OF APES or a MURDER OF CROWS,’ but they will, I think, get a lot of fun out of the sound and rhythm of the phrases and from Paul Glasone’s amusing pictures. A child needs little encouragement to play with words and who, in this game, doesn’t like to run a bit before settling down to walk? by Elleu Lewis Buell”—“For Younger Readers - Company Words - A GAGGLE OF GEESE by Eve Merriam, Illustrated by Paul Goldone, For Ages 5 to 8: ‘New York Times,’ 7 August, page BR26>

<1973 (title) “A MURDER OF CROWS” by P. Buchanan>

<1992 “Chiksika absently watched A MURDER OF CROWS flying in ragged, ungainly pattern in the distance.”—‘Sorrow in our Heart’ by A. W. Eckert, v. page 320>

<1994 “A MURDER OF CROWS squabbles for roosting rights atop a ponderosa tree.”—‘Beautiful British Columbia,’ Fall, page 12/2>

<2000 “Here as in most of his other works, Jacoby seems to have found among radical academics little more than the sociological equivalent of a MURDER OF CROWS; the left-liberal professoriate appears, on page after page, as a flock of noisemakers who do little more than distract themselves with theoretical trinkets, useless flights of fancy, and production of intellectual guano.”—‘The Journal of Politics,’ Vol. 62, No. 3, August, page 949>

<2002 “I do not intend here to discuss the details and niceties of particular translations [[from the Chinese]] or to distribute palms and lashes. Suffice to say that each volume contains a vast EXALTAION OF LARKS and a small MURDER OF CROWS.”—‘The Journal of Asian Studies,’ Vol. 61, No. 3. August, page 991>
(Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources)
________________________

Ken G - February 21, 2007
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Post by trolley » Thu Feb 22, 2007 7:33 pm

Ken and James,
Thanks. I'll check it out, for sure. Looks like a good read. Right now I'm heading into a meeting with a "bother of salesmen"
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Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Feb 22, 2007 8:30 pm

Lipton calls it a "Sample of Salesmen", but your term may be a local colloquialism!
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Feb 23, 2007 12:11 am

'A malocclusion of beavers', Ken -- I wonder whether your faithful helpmeet Viola is as taken with this delightful expression as I am? A lovely coinage!
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Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:31 am

.. so Ken am I to understand that there does exist an official list of venereal terms .. the reason I ask is that, for instance, on our local radio only last week the announcer ran a contest where people rang in to give their favourite venereal term .. now it became quickly apparent that there were many competing names for the one object .. for example see above with salesman .. I might've suggested a warranty of salesmen .. so is it correct to say that as well as the official list there is also a folk list of venereal terms that are often created on the spot ?? .. as a further example we have a serial comic in Australia, Ginger Megs, and often he will be seen sitting at his desk in school and the text is his thought on this or that collective noun .. I am sure that if we posted say 3 nouns on this board right now and asked our WWs to be creative we would arrive at a wonderful list of venereal terms all of which could pass as being correct .. for instance would it be a jump of kangaroos or a bound or a box or a crouch .. Ken is there an offical term for a kangaroo ?? ..

.. of course I was educated in my younger schooldays on the more common collective nouns .. for example shoal, flock, herd, gaggle etc .. but never realised the exotic existed until adult life ..

WoZ of Aus 23/02/07
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Post by trolley » Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:47 am

WoZ
I'm not sure what Mr. Lipton would call it, but on the internet I found mob,herd and troop for roos. I like bound or jump much better.
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Post by Shelley » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:52 am

I have the expanded, second edition (1977) "with over 100 new entries". WoZ, it's a "troop of kangaroos". This section of the book (Part II: The Unknown) is prefaced:
These terms are authentic and authoritative. They were used, they were correct, and they are useful, correct -- and available -- today.
This section includes a murder of crows, a troop of kangaroos, and an unkindness of ravens.
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Feb 23, 2007 4:02 am

What does it say for Australians?
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Feb 23, 2007 8:06 am

Erik. They have AN OUTBACK OF AUSSIES.

My contirbution would be A SCRUM OF AUSSIES!

Some other nationality-related venereals in An Exaltation of Larks include:

A SAVOIR FAIRE OF FRENCHMAN

A POUND OF ENGLISHMAN

A PINT OF IRISHMAN

A FIFTH OF SCOTS

AN EDELWEISS OF AUSTRIANS

A SMORGASBOARD OF SWEDES

A GHOULASH OF HUNGARIANS

AN ATTIC OF GREEKS

A VENDETTA OF SICILIANS

______________________

Ken - February 22, 2007
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Post by Bobinwales » Fri Feb 23, 2007 9:30 am

Don't tell me, A CHOIR OF WELSHMEN, there's nothing quite like a stereotype.
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Feb 23, 2007 9:39 am

Take a handful of Australians and bunch them into a SCRUM. Introduce beer until the scrum becomes quite OT, and I hardly need to spell out the hairy result.

I would have guessed 'a flock of Welshmen', but I guess there's no reasoning with stereotypes.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Feb 23, 2007 8:32 pm

Wiz, Here is the scoop as I think it to be. The holy grail of venereal terms was to decode the Book of St. Albans (1486) by Dame Juliana Berners thought to be the prioress of the nunnery of Sopewell. The book contained three parts, the first on hawking, the second on hunting, and the third on heraldry. Concluding the section on hunting was the famous list of 164 ‘venereal terms.’ It is interesting to note, however, that, of that list, 70 refer, not to animals (e.g. A gaggle of geese, A ‘parliament of owls,’ ‘An exaltation of larks,’ . . . A murder of crows’) and hunting, but to people (e.g. ‘An incredulity of cuckolds,’ ‘A pontificality of prelates,’ ‘A herd of harlots,’ . . . ‘A riffraff of knaves).

In an Exaltation of Larks Lipton describes how scholars for the past 500 years had been trying to decode the above list of 164 and make sense of the 15th-century terms and phrases many of which had defied definition. Lipton, for example, describes how in his decades multipronged quest he had searched in vain for 22 years to find a particular book which he felt would enable him to make sense out of the list of expressions. He didn’t find that book before the 1968 first edition of his book, so that volume contained 175 terms, some of which had been decoded by him from the Book of St. Albans and some by earlier researchers, but it appears that much of the 164 venereal terms remained untranslated.

So what Lipton’s first edition contained was 1) some phrases from the original ‘official’ gospel of Dame Juliana 2) Other venereal-type terms (of both man and beast), which had entered the literature since, including documented contemporary terms and 3) fanciful terms that he had made up himself or which had been communicated to him.

The 2nd edition contains over 1,100 phrases which include all 164 terms of the Book of St. Albans decoded, other documented historical (beyond St. Albans) terms, and contemporary terms, many of which were created and sent to him by venereal term enthusiasts who had read the 1st edition. Also included were many terms of his own creation.

So in answer to your question, I don’t think that there is any ‘official list’ (e.g. under ‘salesman’ Lipton just has ‘A sample of salesman’), although the 164 might be thought of as the seminal, original list. In fact, the nearest thing to an official list might be the contents of Lipton’s book itself, with many of his creations and listings having gained currency over the years.
_______________________

Ken G-February 23, 2007

[In my first paragraph, I got my ‘exalts’ and ‘exults’ mixed up, as Shelley points out below, which I have duly corrected.]
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