A motley of collective nouns

Collective nouns are those wonderful, brain-teasing terms that embody at least one characteristic of what is being described, as in an absence of waiters or a zigzag of zebras.

The Boke of Saint Albans was the last in a series of eight books printed by the St Albans Press in England in 1486. It contains three essays on hawking, hunting, and heraldry, and became wildly popular. It went through many editions, quickly acquiring an additional essay on angling. The essay on hunting is attributed to Dame Juliana Berners (or Barnes or Bernes) who is believed to have been the head of Sopwell Priory near St Albans, England.

The Boke of Saint Albans also contains a large list of collective nouns for animals, such as a “murder of crows”, and is the first known collection in the English language. Using collective nouns specific to certain kinds of animals stems from an English Medieval hunting tradition, dating back to at least the 15th century. Terms of venery or nouns of assembly were used by gentlemen to distinguish themselves from yeomen and others and formed part of their education.

Usage authorities have said that the lesser-known words of this type are not needed for practical purposes and that some are the result of light-hearted creativity rather than observation or are even downright facetious. Of course, these are the best and the coining of collective nouns has long been a humorous pastime of many writers:


A balance of accountants
A bevy of alcoholics
A corps of anatomists
A conflagration of arsonists
An audit of bookkeepers
A rascal of boys
A clutch of breasts
A clutch of car mechanics
A load of cobblers
An unease of compromises
A galaxy of cosmologists
An intrigue of council members
A box of cricketers
An incredulity of cuckolds
A brace of dentists
A bodge of DIYers
A grid of electricians
An exaggeration of fishermen
A revelation of flashers
A giggle of girls
An expectation of heirs
A vagary of impediments
A diffidence of introverts
A scoop of journalists
A flush of lavatories
A stack of librarians
A number of mathematicians
A compromise of mediators
An amalgamation of metallurgists
A babble of linguists
A shower of meteorologists
An expectation of midwives
A horde of misers
An annoyance of neighbours
A row of oarsmen
A body of pathologists
A virtue of patients
A ponder of philosophers
A clique of photographers
A nucleus of physicists
A breakdown of plans
A complex of psychologists
A following of stalkers
A portfolio of stockbrokers
A fanfare of strumpets
A pack of suitcases
A flight of yesterdays
A jam of tarts
A hug of teddy bears
A ring of telephones
A bunch of things
A promise of tomorrows
A twinkling of todays
A cancellation of trains
An anorak of trainspotters
An impatience of wives
A yearning of yesterdays
An optimism of youths


Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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