Friday Feathers

These are from David who notes:

If it’s a murder of Crows


It’s a Parliament of Owls,

then surely it must be …

A brothel of shags?


©David Brindley, all rights reserved


©David Brindley, all rights reserved


To me a s a German, English collective nouns are both a delight and a bane. I mean, a pride of lions and a murmuration of starlings?

In German it’s quite easy: If it flies or swims, it’s a swarm (Schwarm), with the exception of marine mammals (they have Schule, schools like in English). Carnivores that hunt together are a Rudel, a pack like wolves. Grazers? Herde (herd). Trees? Forest, unless you’re my husband who once famously couldn’t remember “forest” and kept talking about a “pack of trees”.


  1. rq says

    I recently had a conversation at work about English collective nouns and their strangeness (I’m pretty sure there’s a strangeness of something out there, too). It’s very interesting! They’re also called terms of venery, and my favourite line out of that whole historical paragraph?

    Even in their original context of medieval venery, the terms were of the nature of kennings, intended as a mark of erudition of the gentlemen able to use them correctly rather than for practical communication.

    So I’m off to memorize a long list of collective nouns and everyone will be impressed. Right? (Alternatively, I could just make up my own…)

    I like the idea of a forest as a pack of trees. Very Ent-worthy.
    Latvian is even simpler, pretty much all animals travel in a bars (you say it short and roll the R, not like when you want to go out and drink) -- exception is domestic animals, they’re usually ganāmpulks, where the first half refers to herding and the second half (pulks) is… like a regiment. People can also be a bars, usually they’re pūlis (though a pūlis tends to be larger and tended towards mobs, while a bars can have slightly bandit-like properties). Insects come in clouds (mākonis), except for bees, they’re a spiets. For some things that tend towards a family-like unit, the word saime can be used -- the household, literally. Anyway.

  2. avalus says

    A sounder of boars. Is it also -- please -- a prickle of porcupines?

    Trees? Forest, unless you’re my husband who once famously couldn’t remember “forest” and kept talking about a “pack of trees”.
    Well, he is not alone! I called a forrest “a clump/clumps of trees” once or twice. :D

  3. avalus says

    Oh sorry for double-posting, but I did not see you link, rq. That really made me smile from ear to ear. There are hilarious ones (a wisdom of wombats? :D) but my favorite is a kalaidoscope of butterlies. Thats a really lovely term.

  4. says

    Oh. I did not know about these colective nouns until fairly recently. Looks like something a bunch of old snobs some time ago decided.

    Czech is fairly simple, like german -- if it flies or swims, it is “hejno” (swarm), for herbivores it is “stádo” (herd), for carnivores it is “smečka” (pack). There is one eception for bees, where it is “roj”. And thats it.

  5. DonDueed says

    rq: How about a strangeness of quarks?

    And I propose “a forge of empires”. I imagine Marcus would be on board with that.

  6. jrkrideau says

    I have read somewhere that some of more unusual collective nouns may have come from someone inventing names as a joke on the person assembling a list of these nouns in the 17th or 18 century but the more common ones, pride, herd, sounder, flock, gaggle, have been used for many centuries.

    One cannot have a herd of sheep or a flock of cows!

  7. jrkrideau says

    @4 avalus
    A small, deliberately planted, “bunch” of trees can be called a copse but I have only seen it used by English writers. I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing it in Canada

  8. Jazzlet says

    Strictly speaking a copse is any grouping of trees that are coppiced so it isn’t necessarily a small group, and it’s not likely to be trees either, anything from fresh cut stools (sort of like stumps) to very large bushes depending on when it was last cut.

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