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Trivia Tuesday: Why are there so many terms for a collective of animals in English?

Trivia Tuesday: Why are there so many terms for a collective of animals in English?

Have you ever noticed how many names the English language has for a collective of animals? For example, what do you call a group of owls? A flock? A flight? A pack? A parliament? A nest? A company? (Hint: It’s a parliament–see above.) But who started using all these different names? The consensus is that hunters dating back to 15th century England are to blame, which is why there are particularly so many names for birds. Another source says these names were penned and perpetuated by The Book of St. Albans, which was printed in English in 1486, but likely translated from French.

Some of the more fanciful-sounding terms seem to have an actual basis: For example, an “unkindness of ravens” is rooted in the myth that ravens will push their young out of the nest to make room (this is untrue–ravens are actually very supportive of their family). Other names are thought to have been lost in translation, or at least lost in time.

Looking for more names for collectives? Try any of these books! Otherwise, here are a few interesting ones I have picked out, with some helpful pictures to aid your memory:

An army of caterpillars

A smack of jellyfish

A shiver of sharks

A knot of toads

A murder of crows

May 1, 20130 comments