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

Discuss word origins and meanings.

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

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon May 04, 2009 4:31 am

I can't avoid suspecting that very few, if any, of these esoteric collective nouns were ever much more than a way for playful individuals with time on their hands to amuse themselves or each other with fanciful coinages. If the nouns were in general use they would have become familiar enough that the species qualifier would usually be dropped. For instance, instead of saying "Here comes a skulk of foxes", a country-dweller might then comment "Here's a pretty skulk!"

When the type of animal continues to have to be spelled out in order to underline the specificity of the collective designation, the usage cannot be well established. If it is not established enough to be used without such qualification, it has probably been invented by someone with a fanciful imagination and a talent for propagating his inventions more widely.

The terms themselves seem to suggest that this is the case. Which of the following terms would have tripped from the tongue of a peasant having little or no education -- presumably the very category of person most likely to encounter or notice the habits of the wildlife living in his vicinity:

An exultation [of larks]
An ostentation [of peacocks]
A murmuration [of starlings]
A parliament [of owls]
An unkindness [of ravens]
A sleuth [of bears]?

None, I suggest.

The attachment of a collective noun to at least one of these species, namely the peacock, is also inconsistent with its natural history. All the descriptions I have read regarding this bird indicate that it is highly territorial, and does not assemble in large numbers. This raises the obvious question of how many, or how few, peafowl must be gathered together to justify the asserted collective noun 'ostentation'.

Whatever that number might be, it seems highly likely that long before the threshold was reached the territorial habits of these birds would have caused them either to start fighting among themselves or to chase each other off their territories. Conclusion: the term was invented without regard for the observable facts.

In most cases the collective noun is, in my estimation, cute but specious. The genuine ones I can think of are those which are quite generic and can be applied to numerous different species, such as herd, swarm, cloud, school, pod, flock.

If anyone is able to demonstrate otherwise I'll be happy to reconsider my opinion.
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon May 04, 2009 8:18 am

Erik, Your above comments are on the mark. Most of the historical collective nouns listed in An Exultation of Larks by James Lipton are playful and little used [[not today nor by the 15th-century uneducated peasant or average man in the street when they were first collected and appeared in print]], although some have survived and some haven’t. But many hadn’t seen the light of day for some 500 years until Lipton, brought them to light in his quarter century of painstaking research. Others in the book were invented by him and by other contributors in what he calls the ‘game of venery’ of which John’s above “exaggeration of fishermen” is a fine example.

Here are some quotes from Lipton's chapter introductions which will help clarify what his book and the collective nouns he lists in it are about:
All the authentic terms [[those which haven’t been made up recently and come down to us from historical works]] you are about to encounter received their first official stamp in the so-called Books of Courtesy, medieval and fifteenth-century social primers, intended as the quotation from Sir Nigel [[see above]] indicates, to provide gentlemen with the means of social acceptability, and to spare him the embarrassment of “some blunder at table, so that those are wiser may have the laugh of you, and we who love you may be shamed [the 1881 facsimile edition of The Book of St. Albans (1486), refers to the book’s subject as “those with which, at that period, every man claiming to be ‘gentle’ was expected to be familiar; while ignorance of their laws and language was to confess himself a ‘churl.’ . . . The subject was of such importance that, in about 1476, within a year of the establishment of printing in England, a printed book, The Hors, Shepe & Ghoos, appeared, with a list of one hundred six venereal terms. But by far the most important of the early works was The Book of St. Albans with its one hundred sixty-four terms, . . . .].

Now that you have read the hunting terms . . . it may surprise you, as it did me, to discover that of the 164 terms in The Book of Saint Albans, seventy of them refer not to animals, but to people and life in the fifteenth century, and every one of these social terms makes the same kind of affectionate or mordant comment as the hunting terms do.

By 1486, the terms of venery were already a game, capable of codification; and if you think that the social terms were casually intended and soon forgotten, be advised that the ninth term in the St. Albans list is the perennial BEVY OF LADIES, and the seventeenth term in the list none other than A CONGREGATION OF PEOPLE . . . The social terms are scattered throughout the list, with nothing to distinguish them from the hunting terms.

As the reader will see, those social terms were the most elusive and challenging terms in the list, not just for me but for every explorer who preceded me [[until Lipton’s research the meaning of many of the terms had remained a mystery]]. As noted earlier, Hare avoided them altogether, and even the redoubtable Hodgkin left a final verdict on some of them to history—and this book. Some of the social terms have given rise to linguistic free-for-alls that have endured for five hundred years (and are recorded here). Perhaps the pages that follow will put controversy to rest once and for all.
Ken – May 3, 2009
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by lorinbc » Mon Aug 17, 2009 7:18 pm

Just for fun I thought we should have a collective noun for people like us who love words and language. How a bout a "glossary of linguaphiles". Love this site.
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Aug 18, 2009 3:44 am

Welcome lorinBCE, And for a assemblage of our more rabid cases, might I suggest an archive of linguapaths.
_____________________

Ken G – August 17, 2009
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by lorinbc » Tue Aug 18, 2009 6:05 am

Very good Ken
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Apr 25, 2014 6:21 am

aaa
<2013 “I aimed into the sounder of pigs—which at that distance looked like a brown patch against the green of the brush—and pulled back the trigger.”—The Son by Philipp Meyer, page 405-406> [[Texas, 1917]]
Haven’t come across this one for quite awhile. If you dig through the above postings I think you will find mention of all but a sounder of ‘razorbacks.’ The word ‘razorback is a relatively latecomer to the swine game.

OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

RAZORBACK noun [1845]: A lean pig with the backbone forming a prominent narrow ridge along the back; especially (U.S.) a member of a half-wild breed of pigs common in the southern United States. More fully razorback hog.

SOUNDER noun [circa 1400]: A herd of wild swine. [[Also boars, pigs, hogs, razorbacks]] [Middle English, from Middle French sondre, sonre, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English sunor herd of swine, Old Norse sonar- herd of swine, Middle High German swaner].
___________________

Ken – April 24, 2014
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Apr 25, 2014 9:37 am

And pigs being intelligent, they love to listen to the Classic FM Top 300, of course.

Hence the alternative name, 'The Sounder Music'.

On the subject of esoterik kollectives, I recently came across an argument over whether this crossword clue (hope I've spelt that right) was fair:

Coaches for postponement (6)
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Apr 25, 2014 12:13 pm

Too cryptic for me, I'm afraid.
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Apr 25, 2014 2:41 pm

I always liked, A giggle of schoolgirls.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

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

Post by Phil White » Fri Apr 25, 2014 3:43 pm

Edwin F Ashworth wrote:On the subject of esoterik kollectives, I recently came across an argument over whether this crossword clue (hope I've spelt that right) was fair:

Coaches for postponement (6)
Only in Dawlish, a little-known dialect spoken by the Dawls, a fearsome and very angry tribe from the West Country
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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

Post by Shelley » Fri Apr 25, 2014 9:45 pm

So glad this topic came up again, because I'm reminded to post "THIS" (a wonderful YouTube video that illustrates a "murmuration of starlings"). Meant to do this a long time ago, when I still remembered how to copy and paste a url address in order to set up a hypertext link, making the word "THIS" turn blue, and thereby transport you to a gray lake on a cloudy day in Scotland(?), where two rowers find themselves in the middle of a murmuration to beat all.
Unfortunately, you'll have to get there yourselves: go to YouTube.com and type in murmuration; it's the first video that comes up, and is about 2+ minutes; there is an ad (ugh!), but you can skip that after a few seconds.
I think you'll enjoy it . . . I look at it when I need a dose of awe.
Cheers,
The Truant
Last edited by Phil White on Fri Apr 25, 2014 9:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Link added
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Phil White » Fri Apr 25, 2014 9:55 pm

Welcome back! Link now added.
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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

Post by Shelley » Fri Apr 25, 2014 10:03 pm

Thanks for creating the link, Phil! Watching it again, still gives me shivers.
Gots to close up shop at the office: will visit again in a couple of hours. (I can hear you -- "Yeah, sure. I'll believe it when I see it".)
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Re: murder of crows [animal collective nouns -- Forum Mod.]

Post by Phil White » Fri Apr 25, 2014 10:07 pm

Breathtaking clip. Could have done without the music.
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Apr 26, 2014 11:28 am

The birds in that clip must have got the idea for their stunt from the homicidal smoke monster in Lost. Accordingly, I propose 'a wreath of crows'.
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