Friday, May 15, 2015

A Destruction of Cats: Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom

If you take a close look at the term collective noun, you can probably guess its meaning. It's a linguistic term for a word that describes a collection of things. We use collective nouns all the time in everyday speech, most notably with the use of words like group and team. There are also many collective nouns you might not immediately think of, like skeleton (a collection of bones) and forest (a collection of trees). However, the most fascinating collective nouns of all are used in reference to the animal kingdom, and are known as terms of venery.

There are a few popular terms of venery that everyone is familiar with, such as a flock of birds and a herd of sheep. You might even have heard of a murder of crows before. However, most terms of venery are rarely read or spoken because they are so obscure. They generally originated centuries ago when hunting was a much more popular sport, especially within the upper classes. Nowadays we don't have much use for these terms, but some of the following terms are so amusing we're almost tempted to try to resurrect them somehow.

Fascinating Felines

We would have used a photo of a destruction of cats,
but we were afraid it would break the Internet.
Have you ever wondered what to call a group of cats? Unlike the boring pack of dogs, cats get tons of cool collective nouns: clowder, cluster, glaring, and pounce. The best of all is undoubtedly a destruction of cats though, which is used to refer to feral cats.

Larger felines that we generally don't keep as pets also have interesting collective nouns: leap of leopards, pride of lions, and ambush or streak of tigers.

There's even a special collective noun for the most adorable felines: a kindle of kittens. I'd take a cuddly kindle over a Kindle any day, wouldn't you?

Creepy Crawlies

Unsurprisingly, linguists have not been kind when it comes to naming insects and other "creepy crawlies", as we so lovingly call them. Prime examples are the terms scourge of mosquitoes, intrusion of cockroaches, and plague of locusts. Other interesting terms include army of caterpillars and the undoubtedly French escargatoire of snails.

However, the controversial butterfly, which people generally either love or fear (nobody ever suspects the butterfly), has two collective nouns that suit both sentiments: the fanciful flutter of butterflies, or the ominous swarm of butterflies. The term swarm is also used with lots of other disliked creatures, including eels, gnats, and grasshoppers.

Magnificent Mammals

There are tons of great collective nouns for mammals of all shapes and sizes. Some of the most aptly named groups include scurry of squirrels, skulk of foxes, and tower of giraffes. I don't know whether or not the adorable marsupials known as wombats are wise, but they are nevertheless called a wisdom of wombats.

Beautiful Birds

The list of collective nouns for birds is seemingly endless, as bird watching has continued to be a much more popular pastime than hunting over the centuries. There are tons of words for ducks, for example: bunch, paddling, and raft can all be used when they're on water, while skein, string, and team are reserved for those in flight, and waddling and plump can be used any time.

Several other birds have interesting collective nouns, such as the aptly named stand of flamingos and pandemonium of parrots. Birds of prey often get regal-sounding terms, such as convocation of eagles and parliament of owls. Finally, there's the sad term unkindness of ravens, which is nearly as bad as murder of crows.

Did we leave out your favorite collective noun for an animal? Let us know in the comments below.