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A pod of phrase-finders

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 18, 2007

In Reply to: A pod of phrase-finders posted by pamela on June 18, 2007

: : : : : : : : : : : : : A murder of crows

: : : : : : : : : : : : : Hello! Would you give some examples of typical usage of this collective noon?

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: : : : : : : : : : : : A typical use would be as the title of a mystery story or a movie--some fictional work. It has also been used to characterize a diminution of the number of crows found in and around Chicago. It is also used as a whimsical title for various things possibly related to crows, but possibly not. And of course it comes up in discussions of collective words for animals of various species. Much the same might be said of "murder of ravens," except for the Chicago reference. You can also choose, if you prefer, an "unkindness of ravens." If one is talking about rooks (a European variety of crow), one can mention a rookery of rooks, or a clamour of rooks, or a parliament of rooks.

: : : : : : : : : : : : Among other groups of birds, I especially like "murmuration of starlings," and "exaltation of larks."

: : : : : : : : : : : : If you wish to know how it is used in everyday conversation, well, I guess it isn't. It is perfectly okay to say "flock of crows," which is what most people say when occasion demands. The same is true of "crash of rhinoceri," which most people eschew in favor of "herd."

: : : : : : : : : : : : You can find out a lot about collective terms by searching on "animal collectives" or on the term for a group of any single species. One easy to use list is:

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: : : : : : : : : : : I agree that these things are not used. As an amusing diversion they are fine, but I have never heard anyone actually say them.

: : : : : : : : : : : DFG

: : : : : : : : : : Thanks, David, for not calling attention to my egregious omission of Geoffrey Chaucer's "A Parliament of Fowles."

: : : : : : : : : : Although the names we actually use for groups of a single species are not normally what we would call fanciful, nonetheless such groups have to have a name, and herd or flock will not always suffice. It's not fanciful to call a group of lions a pride. They certainly aren't a herd. The word covey is often used in regard to partridges, and sometimes grouse and ptarmigan as well. In the U.S. I have often heard speak of a covey of quails, but my dictionary says that bevy is the proper term for a group of quails--or of roes, larks and maidens (or ladies).

: : : : : : : : : : Naming aggregates of humans is sometimes challenging. I found a blog by a cleric who belongs to an ecumentical group of clergy who call themselves a "fraternity." Why not? It's a term often used for groups of clergy. But in this group the only male is the author of the blog.
: : : : : : : : : : SS

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: : : : : : : : : I am chastened. Smokey is, of course, right. Some of these terms are indeed used.

: : : : : : : : : As for clergymen, I was once present when a friend coined (I think, though he might have heard it elsewhere and merely borrowed it) the term a 'surplice' (surplus) of vicars.

: : : : : : : : : DFG

: : : : : : : : I dimly remember someone coining "a flourish of strumpets" several decades ago, but I can't remember what ladies were the object of this bon mot. We could invent new ones, of course. How about a pentagon of idiots?

: : : : : : : A fuss of compulsives. ~rb

: : : : : : You have probably seen the following joke.

: : : : : : Four scholars at Oxford were making their wa y down the street, and happened to see a group of ladies of the evening. "What's this?" said the first. "A jam of tarts?" "Nay," said the second, "an essay of Trollope's." "Rather, a flourish of strumpets," advanced the third. "No, gentlemen," concluded the last. "Here we have an anthology of pros."

: : : : : : Back to the prosaic--collective nouns that are odd-sounding but nonetheless in common use: pod of whales, gaggle of geese (which still gets a giggle). If the geese are in flight, we may call them a skein.
: : : : : : SS

: : : : : Ah, now here I will disagree. I don't think I have ever heard anyone say a 'pod' of whales: 'school', yes; 'pod', no.

: : : : : And I think 'flock of geese' would be the common usage.

: : : : : DFG

: : : : David Attenborough used "pod" (and even in one case "super-pod" - there were over 100 animals in it) of dolphins in the TV series Blue Planet. So I think we may conclude that it is in use among specialists at least. I agree with Smokey that I would certainly use "skein" of geese in flight (though perhaps "skein" is not so much a noun of association as a name for the formation they fly in?), and "gaggle" of maybe up to a dozen or so geese on the ground. If there were more than that, I'd call them a flock, yes. (VSD)

: : : What the EB Online says about geese is interesting and germane: "Geese pair for life and associate in flocks called gaggles." Victoria is right about the word skein referring to the formation itself of geese in flight. The same is true of a "school" of whales (or fish). When they are in motion as a group, feeding, perhaps, they are a school, or they can be said to be schooling. The term "herd" is also sometimes used for whales. As for pod, it seems to be a word that worked its way up into the general vocabulary from its use by people who lived close to the environment of the species. It's used for any marine mammal, seals as well as whales and dolphins. I think it will soon become the word of choice, precisely because of the work of educators like David Attenborough, whose films, along with others being produced in our time, or at least the messages they try to teach, have become amazingly well-known to the present generation of children, who are sometimes called by the word for baby goats.
: : : SS

: : I use "pod" for whales, but I had a daughter who obsessed on cetaceans for a period, and the household was awash in whale information. We all read "Sounding," a novel written from a whale's point of view. Pretty good read by the way - an aquatic Watership Down.

: By-the-way "Migaloo" was named by an Aboriginal Elder. It means "white-fella" (thank God he got in before someone else called him "Moby"). And speaking of "whale tails" it was also the slang here for the part of a woman's g-string that you can see above her jeans at the back - a fashion that has gone now. Pamela

That's very valuable information, about the whale-tails. There's also a word for a fake tattoo (decal?) that women wear just above the separation of the hips, in the rear, but I've forgotten what it is. And we call ourselves phrase finders!

I've been trying to find out how to categorize a "kettle of hawks." American hawk watchers in spring and fall, especially the latter, watch migrating hawks from mountains. They tend to come in aggregates, not confined to one species, sometimes including eagles (golden eagles mostly). The reason that they congregate in migration, and rarely at other times, is that they save energy by riding the thermals. When one watcher spots, in his binoculars, a bunch of hawks sort of circling around a central point, he calls out, "kettle", or "I see a kettle." That is, he sees a kettle of hawks, the normal term for such a congregation. The watchers consider the group of hawks to be the kettle, but the name probably originates in a sort of hollow, or kettle, in the landscape where the thermals are particula rly strong. Is all that perfectly clear?