Jump to content

OK, so I'm a nerd. I like this kind of stuff

Recommended Posts

  • 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

    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/

Link to comment

I like literary collectives. To my ear, a murder of crows strikes just the right pitch, and what could be more murderous than a collection of crows squalling and shoving to feast on someone's bags of wet trash? And what emotion would be foremost in the mind of the bagger of that trash, upon spying those crows tearing into his bags? An exaltation of larks is just that, and may the larks poo on the ornithologist who objects. We employ language to depict meaning, and meaning is often barren enough that any occasion where it can rise above its mundane explicitness to add a little flavor, a touch of robust descriptiveness, should be celebrated.

Have a go at creating some collectives with rich overtones and value-added. How about a shroud of mourners at a funeral?

Link to comment

For the sake of transparency, I have to admit that "burden of priests" comes from my comment, in another thread, in which I coined, "priests of burden," being a play on the well known phrase, "beasts of burden."

I'm happy for it to become common usage.

Link to comment

If I may return us to the subject of crows, I read an interesting rendition for a group of crows. They are also referred to as A Storytelling of Crows. I can see the logic of it, since they seem to be a noisy bunch and might very well be telling each other stories. LOL. Just thought I'd put in a penny.

Link to comment

I'm sure they have some interesting stories to tell one another, Addym, but more likely they are gossiping about the neighborhood. Crows have been studied and it is reported that wild crows not only communicate actively, they can recognize individual people. They can pick a person out of a crowd, follow them, and remember them — apparently for years. They remember that nasty man with the pellet gun, and they warn one another when dogs are loose and likely to chase them away from their local garbage pile/crow cafe. Check this out: http://www.cracked.com/article_19042_6-terrifying-ways-crows-are-way-smarter-than-you-think.html

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...