Business of ferrets, and other collective nouns

Prompted by last nights’ Who Wants to be a Millionaire…

We’re probably all familiar with the strange and unusual words used for collections of animals–pride of lions, murder of crows, exaltation of larks, business of ferrets…something comes in a “raft”, but I can’t remember now.

I’m not terribly interested in compiling the complete list, although I’m sure somebody will come up with one–but I’m wondering, why? why? why? Why did someone look at a flock of crows and say, "ya know, we shouldn’t call a bunch of crows a “flock”; we should use some other word that’s already in use…say, “murder”.

There’s a book called “An Exhaltation of Larks”, can’t remember the author, but he explains some of the origins-- some made a lot of sense in the 12th century, for example, because of linguistic connections, archaic uses of words that we’ve lost, etc.

Well said capybara. The book is “An exaltation of Larks” by Robert Reed, available in paperback at any well-stocked bookstore.

I thought this was addressed in a Cecil column, but I just searched the archive and couldn’t find it. Must have been a “Why Things Are” column or something.

Anyway, I remember that the answer to this question was that basically it was the result of a parlor game played in… the 18th century? Perhaps the 19th. Basically, people would get together and think up outlandish names for groups of animals, and some of them stuck. Not all animal group names were derived this way, but many were. I remember that “parliament of owls” was one specific example.

I wish I could remember what the game was called. It had a specific name. “The _____ Game”. Maybe it will come to me later.

The invention of collective nouns still goes on.

The last I heard was the collective for bankers - a “Wunch”.



Well, actually An Exaltation of Larks by Robert Reed is a science fiction novel. Still worth reading, but not what jsc1953 was looking for.

An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition by James Lipton (Penguin trade paperback in the USA) is the book we really want.

I axed this question a couple of months back. It seems that such terms are older than I had supposed.

Here are some sites that list collective nouns for animals:

With thanks to Duck Duck Goose, I think. Bookmarked it from another thread a few months ago.
It’s lacking a little on origins, but does have a bibliography, as well as a set of “rules” for established a new collective phrase.

G.B.H. Hornswoggler - These are the times when a moderator needs all his willpower to not go back and edit his previous post! :o

I was switching back and forth between two browser windows and C&Ped the same name (both books were on the search screen.) Mea Culpa. For my punishment I have to go to the moderator dungeon and eat bread and water for a week. C. A. runs a tight ship.

By the way, by looking at the book reviews for “An Exaltation of Larks” - the word origin book, not the SF book ( :o ), I see the danger of allowing just anyone off the Internet to post book reviews. All the reviews of the book are very complimentary, except one, where someone says:
«James Lipton has proved, with this book, that he is the most inept author alive. His unctuous attempts at humor fail without exception; “Mein Kampf” would get more laughs at the Wailing Wall. This book is a truckling exercise in fawning obsequiousness, which, while being Jimmy Lipton’s lifeblood, is nevertheless abhorrent reading.» :eek:

Though some of the irate reviewer’s phrases have caught my eye, and I may use them sometime.