Bible Verse of the Day

Monday, November 07, 2011

Them crazy, them English...


My dictionary informs me that the proper term for a group of larks is an exaltation. An exaltation of larks! How wonderfully descriptive. You know the word, you say? Well, perhaps you would like to try a little quiz.
To begin, what would you call a group of grouse? “Covey” you say, clapping your hands gleefully. But covey means a single family of grouse. A group of grouse larger than a covey is known as a pack.


You see how complicated this gets?

Here’s one that’s even tougher. What is the proper term for a group of ferrets? Don’t just sit there scratching your head — guess! OK, it’s a business of ferrets. What business are the ferrets in? I don’t know. Probably usury.
The next term — for a group of geese — seems a cinch. Flock is correct, but only if the geese are standing around killing time. Once they start flying, they become a skein. If they’re on the water, they’re a gaggle.
Among my all-time favourites are a crash of rhinoceroses, and a charm of hummingbirds. Then there’s a convocation of eagles, a skulk of foxes, a chattering of starlings, a mustering of storks, an unkindness of ravens, a sloth of bears, a gang of elk, a siege of herons, a leap of leopards, a murder of crows.
You probably don’t know that a group of toads is called a knot. Personally, I think I’d just as soon come across a crash of rhinoceroses as a knot of toads.
Sadly, there are no group names for outdoorsmen, who deserve their own group terms just as much as other wild creatures. In the interest of lexicography, I have invented some of my own.
Let’s begin with Cub Scouts. As with geese, the terms vary according to what the Cubs are doing. If they are meeting at someone else’s house, for example, they are referred to as a den. If they are meeting at your house, they are a din. A group of den mothers is a frazzle.
There are different names for groups of fishermen in different situations. Several fishermen driving out to begin a day of fishing are an exuberance. If the day turns out to be unsuccessful, the group is variously referred to as a sulk or a grumble. Fishermen surprised by a herd of mean cows (sometimes known as a mayhem of cows) become a panic of anglers or sometimes a skein of anglers. A group of ice fishermen is a chatter or a chill, although the term loony is often used, particularly by their wives.
A boast of hunters refers to any group of hunters larger than one. A tedium is any group of hunters who get started talking about their first springbok, first kudu and so on.
As a child, I once joined a berserk of juvenile campers heading for home after a lion roared near our camp. It might have been a whole pride of lions, but even one was excessive.
But wait! The sky is blue, the birds are singing, the great outdoors is beckoning. I think it’s time I set aside my chores, picked up my fishing rod and slid out the back door. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone off on an exaltation of my own.
CONDENSED FROM “THE GRASSHOPPER TRAPS” ©1985 PATRICK F MCMANUS. PUBLISHED BY HENRY HOLT & CO INC. NEW YORK