Spinning off from our collector-topic: You might speak of a certain collection of animals as a herd of buffalo, a flock of starlings or other birds, or a school of fish. You'd never refer to a flock of buffalo, a school of birds, or a herd of fish.
My point? Many collective terms are used only for certain animals, not for all. It's fun to invent new, specific collective terms. (For example, if streetwalkers are trolling the avenue for customers, they might be called a flourish of strumpets.)
This week we'll at some of the many that our language already has. Many such "group words" (particularly for animals which were more familiar centuries ago) are now almost forgotten, and perhaps were never were much known. Some of them are just linguistic curiosities (I mean, how often will you have occasion to refer to a cete of badgers or a nide of pheasants?), but we'll try to focus on terms you could actually us, for things you encounter in your day to day life.
kindle – a group of kittens [kindle (verb) – of a female animal: to give birth to young]
I am convalescing. I have been sick with a virus, a strange influenza that has left me as weak as a kindle of kittens. – Kate Atkinson, Emotionally Weird
… I put in a call to the local shelter. … But the shelter was full; there was a great number of cats and many kittens waiting for adoption. "There's no room at the inn," the manager said. "Yours is actually the... fourth call this week from someone who has found a kindle of kittens abandoned somewhere. I can't understand how people can be so cruel or why they are so irresponsible in the first place." – Kaetheryn Walker, Homeopathic First Aid for Animals: Tales and Techniques from a Country Practitioner
August 16, 2007, 12:43
A conjugation of language teachers.
August 17, 2007, 12:10
As long as we were talking about kittens, what about cats?
clowder – a group or cluster of cats [cognate with cluster, clutter, clot, coagulate, and to some degree with clatter – but apparently not with coagulate]
Nothing but a few stray rats and ground squirrels, and the half dozen stray cats that had taken up residence some days before, following the quakes, a clowder of thin, wild beasts so fearful they would run from a bird shadow swooping overhead. – Shirley Rousseau Murphy, Cat To The Dogs: A Joe Grey Mystery
… a number of sooty tenements pressed four and five storeys upwards. A clowder of scrawny cats was busy in a heap of fishbones … – Ross King, Ex-Libris
August 18, 2007, 09:39
murmuration – a flock (of starlings) OED is skeptical of whether purported words of this sort, found in old word-lists, were truly "real" words at the time. It says of murmuration: "One of many alleged group terms found in late Middle English glossarial sources, but not otherwise substantiated. Revived and popularized in the 20th cent."
The new owners watched as a murmuration of starlings swooped and chattered in the fading sky … – Eric Hodgins and William Steig, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1946; presumably the basis for the movie of the same title)
Adorm I lived in in college was plagued with starlings living in the ivy that covered its walls. Anyone who's had to live near the constant noise of a starling gathering-place will know how annoying these *#&! birds are.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
August 18, 2007, 20:46
I'm with you on starlings, Wordcrafter. "Murmuration" seems more appropriate to mourning doves. For starlings, I suggest "klatsch."
August 19, 2007, 12:53
warren – a colony of rabbits (also, an overcrowded or maze-like area)
My e-mail is kind of like a warren of rabbits. When I return from an adventure, I find it has been breeding. – San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 2002
Deep in the heart of the Bell Institute, in the bowels of the laboratory, you come to a warren of windowless rooms called, rather grandly, the Institute of Cereal Technology. – Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
giggle – a group of girls or other silly females [I would think of this as a metaphor, but OED accepts it as a word, originating in 1942: "He had picked her out of the whole giggle of Society débutantes."]
The scene was the White House flower garden, crowded with a giggle of presidential secretaries … – Time Magazine, Nov. 8, 1963
[in an impoverished rural area] A giggle of girls jostles to glimpse the intimations of instant immortality provided by a visitor's digital camera. – Times of India, Feb. 4, 2005
August 19, 2007, 13:08
Anyone recall who first used the term "gig(g)irls?"
Vaguely recall James Joyce but not to coming up on Google...(Gigoogle?)
August 20, 2007, 19:53
Sure it wasn't Glenn "giggidy-giggidy" Quagmire?
August 24, 2007, 13:39
gaggle – a flock (of geese); also derisively, a company (of women) [OED says, "One of the many artificial terms invented in the 15th c. as distinctive collectives referring to particular animals or classes of persons; but unlike most of the others, it seems to have been actually adopted in use."] [Some say a gaggle of geese is a flock awkward on the ground, but not one in graceful flight. But contrast second quote. Also, in actual usage "gaggle" is far more often used to mean "any disorderly crowd", not necessarily geese.]
… a gaggle of greedy journalists, of whom I was one. – New Scientist, Dec. 25, 1999
A French pilot who has taught a gaggle of orphaned geese to follow his microlight aircraft will be the star attraction at an air show this weekend. French environmentalist Christian Moullec spent the past 10 years training the geese to look on his aircraft as their parent. The gaggle will fly at the Sywell air and music show in Northants to the sounds of a piano concerto by Mozart. – BBC News, June 23, 2006
skein – a flight of wild fowl [from the main and earlier sense of "a quantity of thread or yarn, wound to a certain length upon a reel"]
When a skein of geese flies over my neighborhood, I celebrate that these symbols of wildness still grace my city … – Seattle Times, July 17, 2005
August 24, 2007, 17:43
I think I'll stick with "gaggle" for our local 'Canadian' (haha) geese. When 'migrating' from St Helen's churchyard to downtown Mindowaskin pond [which is as far as they ever fly all year long], their muted calls are reminiscent of the wild fowl of my rural youth. They are so tame that they have learned to cross the street only at corners and crosswalks!
August 25, 2007, 18:54
Here are some pictures and other info on Canada goose, provided by Wikipedia.
August 28, 2007, 05:46
GAGGLE & LEASH
More on Canada Geese (from your Wiki source, Jerry, with my "addendum"]: Their adaptability to human-altered areas has made this the most common waterfowl species in North America. In many areas, these non-migratory Canada Geese are now regarded as "pests". They are suspected of being a cause of an increase in high fecal coliforms at beaches.* An extended hunting season and the use of noise makers have been used in an attempt to disrupt suspect flocks over the course of several years. *citation: just check out St Helens churchyard or Mindowaskin Park at any time of the year, parts of which become impassible due to spotty public clean-up funds-- watch your step.
Every couple of years public opinion erupts in the local papers, usually inspired by a quarrel in the next town about whether or not to have a deer hunt when their unchecked population descends from the state park to devour tiny urban gardens (Lyme ticks, anyone?). This idea gets the adrenaline pumping but never lasts long. (I mean, where would you go while they're shooting?)... Most recently, a local agency hatched the nefarious plan of herding the geese into a truck and carting them off to a too-well-described demise. No one could bear the thought of it. So here we sit, slowly poisoned by our local fauna.