A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fun with collective nouns

In England in the Middle Ages, the common practice of hunting led people to coin terms for groups of animals that were specific to each sort of animal (such as a gaggle of geese or a pride of lions). These specialized collective nouns are therefore called "terms of venery" (where "venery" is another word for hunting). In the 14th and 15th centuries, this became a full-fledged fad, with silly terms being coined just for fun and with the process being extended from animals to groups of people.

These terms are still being concocted today. For those of us who like such neologisms, there is now a site dedicated to them: All Sorts (subtitled "a linguistic experiment").

A good place to start is the list of collective nouns sorted by popularity.

Some of my favorites are:

  • a seemingly empty room of ninjas
  • a brace of orthodontists
  • a hush of librarians
  • a _____ of mime artists
  • a heard of homonyms
  • a winter of discount tents
  • a clutch of handbags
  • a knot of string theorists
  • an array of programmers
  • a herd of eavesdroppers

The way the site works is that it catalogs whatever suggestions people make on Twitter (when they use the hashtag "#collectivenouns").

Naturally, I couldn't help but suggest a few:

  • a closet of skeletons
  • a clattering of abacuses
  • an epiphany of light bulbs
  • an ink cloud of octopuses
  • a curiosity of question marks
The All Sorts project is a great concept because it clearly demonstrates the frivolity and playfulness of minting new collective nouns. Try it. It's fun!