Cole Parker Posted January 22, 2015 Report Share Posted January 22, 2015 What do you call a group of word nerds? A gaggle of geese. Photo by Louise E. Robbins How about a word nerd herd? Herd is a good example of a collective noun—a noun used to refer to a group of things, usually living creatures, of a single kind. We all know many other standard collective nouns (not to be confused with noncount, or mass, nouns, discussed in a previous post). People can be grouped into families, teams, committees, clubs, and so on. Animals come together in flocks (sheep), herds (cattle), packs (wolves),schools (fish), and prides (lions). Perhaps you’re familiar with some of the more whimsical collective nouns, such as an exaltation of larks and amurmuration of starlings. We’ll get back to those. But first, let’s look at the question of whether a collective noun takes a singular or a plural verb. AUsage Note in the American Heritage Dictionary provides guidance: In American usage, a collective noun takes a singular verb when it refers to the collection considered as a whole, as in The family was united on this question. The enemy is suing for peace. It takes a plural verb when it refers to the members of the group considered as individuals, as in My family are always fighting among themselves. The enemy were showing up in groups of three or four to turn in their weapons. In British usage, however, collective nouns are more often treated as plurals: The government have not announced a new policy. The team are playing in the test matches next week. A collective noun should not be treated as both singular and plural in the same construction; thus The family is determined to press its (not their) claim. Now about those exaltations and murmurations. Obscure collective nouns for groups of animals fall into two categories: those that are actually used by people, such as hunters and zoologists, who regularly deal with animals, and those that have been concocted as a linguistic game. In the first category are words like bevy (of quail) and brood (of hens). In the second category are a whole host of words like exaltation, murmuration, murder (of crows),shrewdness (of apes), and crash (of rhinoceroses). Most of these latter words are not used by professionals. A crow expert at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, for example, notes that “The poetic term for a bunch of crows is a ‘murder.’ No scientist calls them that, only poets. Scientists would call it a flock”. Many of these poetic terms first appeared in lists created in the Middle Ages and were probably never widely used. They are often called “terms of venery” (venery means “the act or sport of hunting” and comes from the same Latin root as venison). Interest in these terms was revived in the twentieth century, especially with the 1968 publication of James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks (which was followed by a rash of similarly titled books). Since then, many people have enjoyed collecting these collective nouns and coining new ones. How should a dictionary treat such words? This brings up the larger issue of how to define words that are typically used as words themselves rather than for their meaning. Just as you’re much more likely to hear “Did you know that the longest word in the English language issupercalifragilisticexpialidocious?” than “That movie was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!,” you’re more likely to hear “Did you know that a group of crows is called a murder?” than “The ornithologist studied a murder of crows.” Dictionaries differ in how they treat such words. Some leave them out altogether; others take a step back, identifying the words as fanciful; and yet others (including the American Heritage Dictionary) define the most popular ones without commentary. From: http://ahdictionary.tumblr.com/ Quote Link to comment
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