A Menagerie of Words

I love collective nouns. These are words used to represent groups of objects, usually animals. Most people are familiar with these terms without realizing just what a peculiarity of the English language they are: at one time or another we’ve all used, or at least read, expressions such as school of whales, pride of lions, pack of wolves…but how many of us have heard of a  destruction of cats, an ostentation of peacocks, or a murder of crows?  These are fun words to play with, especially if you’re a writer. Used with care, in just the right context, they can be quite evocative. Fortunately, the Web makes it easy to find lists compiling such words. But the great thing is, if your research doesn’t yield the exact results you want, you can invent your own!

Last year, an author friend on Facebook solicited ideas for collective nouns for snakes. He knew about the usual ones — nest, den, pit — but he was looking for something different for a novel he was writing. Naturally, as tends to be normal among friends, a fair number of the responses were half-joking.  My own offering was “a planeful.” Somebody else suggested “Congress.”  I think the author ultimately went with “tangle,” which I thought was an excellent choice for the scene he was crafting.

Now I’ve discovered that someone last year put  together his own list of collective nouns specifically for the supernatural! My favorites are a cackle of mad scientists, a braid of chimerae, and a clamor of harpies, but I have to admit to being impressed with the author just for being brave enough to suggest a lawn of gnomes.  Definitely worth checking out!

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