A Curiosity of Collective Nouns

The rumination’s been too much lately, the weltschmerz is knocking at the door, and the church steeple’s looking better every day. What does one do?

As I am sure is the practice of many whenever their semi-monthly Dark Night of the Soul’s also coming on, I sooth my ruffled plumage with something venereal. 

Terms of Venery—known more commonly as Nouns of Multitude, Nouns of Assemblage, Group Nouns, Company Terms, or Collective Nouns—are a lovely little curiosity of the English language. Far from a relationship with sexual intercourse, Terms of Venery borrows from the Latin venari (to hunt) and was invented in 13th Century as the art form of contriving playful and poetic collective nouns to describe groups of animals. 

And the best part is that the practice seems to have been invented purely for the fun of it.

One of the earliest and weightiest tomes in history on Terms of Venery is called The Boke of St. Albans, written in 1486 by a sporting nun, Dame Juliana Berners. 

The Book of St. Albans contains material similar to today’s best-selling non-fiction:

  • “The kyndeli termis that belong to hawkis” 
  • “How ye shall naame the memberes of yowre hawkis in conuenient termes”
  • “The namys of diuerse maner houndis”
  • “The compaynys of beestys and fowlys”
  • “Here folow the dew termys to speke of breeh­yng or dressyng of dyuerse beestis and fowlis &c. And thessame is shewed of certayn fysshes.”

Lip-curlers such as a rafter of turkeys, a shrewdness of apes, and a murmuration of starlings convene in abundance therein. But Berners also delves into bipedal congregations with such burners as a pontificality of priests and a superfluity of nuns

But what really helps me sleep at night is that the practice of creatively coining has continued just for the lark of it.

James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks is something of a modern scripture for furthering Nouns of Assemblage. He goes back to the classics, coining such capers as a clowder of cats and an ostentation of Peacocks, whilst also proving himself an adept social-observer with a rash of psychologistsan indifference of waiters, and a wheeze of joggers

Myself, I’ve always been partial to a rookery of albatrosses, a parliament of beggars, and a spread of nymphomaniacs.

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