Post by Jessica Orlidge
Edited by Dawn Bush
Many of us are ESL/ESOL instructors this year. While preparing an animal word lesson, I came across an article stating that a group of baboons is called a “congress.”
…This is false (See PolitiFact link below—they are called “troops” of baboons). Still, this did set me off on a great search for strange collective animal nouns:
Of course we’ve all heard of the generic “flock of birds,” but if you ever want to get more Edgar Allen Poe about it, an appropriate term for a group of crows, ravens, or rooks is called a “murder.” Supposedly this term dates as far back as the 15th century, when the phrase “murther of crowes” was first documented. (During the time of Middle English, the “th” sound was phonetically similar to today’s “d.”)
There are many theories as to how this came about. One pertains to the scavenging tendency of crows—groups of them might surround the corpses of other animals to feast. In times of war, thick black layers of moving feathers would cover the ground as these birds made meals of the deceased. PBS reports another theory: “There is a folktale that crows will gather and decide the capital fate of another crow” (“A Murder of Crows”). In this case, these birds are quite literally murderous. And of course, crows have traditionally been regarded as omens of death.
A Group of Peacocks is called an “Ostentation”
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Cooney; http://www.jeffcooney.com)
Yep, the official term for a flock of geese is called a “gaggle.” Supposedly, in the fifteenth century, the term “gagyll” referred to collective groups of both geese and women, respectively (or not so respectfully). The Oxford English Dictionary states that this word is, “one of the many artificial terms invented in the 15th c. as distinctive collectives referring to particular animals or classes of persons.” There is an Old Norse word, gagl, which means a “small goose, gosling, or bird,” and a Dutch word “gagelen,” which means “to chatter” (Harper).
Owl Parliament is Again in Session
Although I couldn’t find the exact etymology of the term, many definitions of “parliament” will also include this one: “the collective noun for a group of owls” (Murphy-Hiscock 137). Some explain this in a positive manner, stating that like members of a parliament, owls can “see and hear very precisely” which allows them to “cut through the obfuscation and murk,” and, “focus” (137). Other alternatives to this term include a “nest of owls,” a “bazaar of owls,” a “brood of owls,” and in even more specific cases, a “blizzard of snowy owls” (Lewis).
…A pounce of cats, a knot of frogs, a bed of eels, a wisdom of wombats, etc. etc. etc. The list of collective animal nouns goes on and on. Whether all of them are real and rare, archaic, or simply made up, they’re interesting—and WEIRD.
For more, check out this list: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/got_questions_groups_list.html
“A Murder of Crows.” Thirteen: Education Broadcasting Company. PBS, 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.
Harper, Douglas. “Gaggle.” Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., 2001-2012. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.
Lewis, Deane P. “Owlish Words, Meanings, and Origins.” The Owl Pages. N.p., 15 Aug. 2012. Web. 6 Feb. 2013.
Murphy-Hiscock, Arin. Birds – A Spiritual Field Guide: Explore the Symbology and Significance of These Divine Winged Messengers. China: F+W Media, Inc., 2012.