The strangeness of the English language when it comes to collective nouns for animals

English is a funny language – as my Italian mother used to remark often. Perhaps nowhere is it stranger than when it comes to collective nouns, especially for animals (and most particularly for birds), many of which go back to the Late Middle Ages.

Some of my favourites are:

  • a congregation of alligators
  • a shrewdness of apes
  • a sleuth of bears
  • a flutter of butterflies
  • a chattering of choughs
  • a murder of crows
  • a convocation of eagles
  • a charm of finches
  • a kettle of hawks
  • a cackle of hyenas
  • a bevy of larks
  • a scourge of mosquitoes
  • a watch of nightingales
  • a parliament of owls
  • a bouquet of pheasants
  • an unkindness of ravens
  • a crash of¬†rhinoceroses
  • an ambush of tigers
  • a descent of woodpeckers
  • a dazzle of zebras

Further information here.


2 Comments

  • Janet

    Hi Roger,
    I’ve heard of most of those, but I understood that the collective term for tigers was a streak. Hence London Zoo’s fundraising event
    http://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/whats-on/streak-for-tigers
    which I’m hoping to take part in.

  • Roger Darlington

    Well, Janet, I’m impressed at your extensive vocabulary. Most of the nouns were new to me until I looked them up.
    In many cases, there is more than one collective noun for each type of animal and a group of tigers can indeed be called a streak.
    Just how naked and how long is this streak of yours?!?

 




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