Along with my continuing endeavor to spread sweetness and light and joy everywhere through humorous anecdotes of my perfect life (according to few of my “friends” my life is perfect and so I should never whine about anything, I should be full of gratitude for my life and realize that things can only get worse…….I agree things can and will get worse) I also have a duty to inspire everybody to be better people.
And the way to being a better person is to have a better education.
And the way to a better education lies in mastering the collective noun (don’t ask).
So where did collective nouns come from?
Who knows, but they first appeared in book form in the 15th century.
The Books of Courtesy were published to train young aristocrats. Some of the well-known books are The Egerton Manuscript (around 1450) and The Book of St Albans (around 1486). Between them they have around a 150 such collective nouns.
And for you reading pleasure, my dear readers, I am putting up a selection of these terms. As you will see, some of these are pretty straight-forward, some are extremely convoluted, some downright weird.
A Murder of Crows
There are 2 backgrounds to this
Crows have been seen as prophetic an messengers of Odin/Devil. Superstitious people would consider the appearance of a crow on the roof of a house as an omen that someone inside would soon die.
In Sweden, there is another story. There are accounts of something called a crow parliament (kråkriksdag in Swedish). In this, apparently up to 500 birds would gather together and then suddenly attack one of their own and and tear it to pieces.
A Tabernacle of Bakers
Bread was the staple food of a medieval proletariat (meat, fish and dairy produce were way too expensive). However, the royal reprobates had issued strict laws that stated that no baker was allowed to sell his bread from beside his own oven. They had to sell their produce from a stall at one of the king’s approved markets.
These small, portable shops were known in Middle English as ‘tabernacula’ (little shops made of boards).
A Stalk of Foresters
In the medieval all forests belonged to the kings or aristocrats. They appointed foresters to look after these forests. A forester’s duties included protecting the forest’s stock of game birds, deer and other animals from poachers. But that wasn’t all. Criminals often ran away from towns and villages and took shelter in the forests.
It was the duty of the foresters to stalk these criminals and arrest/kill them.
A Sentence of Judges
In 1166, Henry II established the courts of assizes, a national bench of judges. These guys travelled around the country attending quarterly court sessions. They based their decisions on a new set of national laws that were common to all people, which is where we get the term ‘common law’. Apart from mediating in civil matters, the judges would also sentence criminals to be punished.
A Faith of Merchants
This is an ironic one. The medieval merchants were no different than today’s merchants as far as corruption is concerned. But since they formed guilds and these guilds were extremely wealthy, nobody could properly punish them. When found guilty of nefarious stuff, the merchants would just pay a nominal fine and continue as before.
QED, the ironic term
An Abominable Sight of Monks
By the middle ages, monks became a hated group. The reasons were manifold.
Firstly, monks spreading Christianity would trample all over local pagan customs, thus making the locals angry.
Secondly, monks, in general, became very rich in their abbeys from donations, from their lands and from charging pilgrims and common folk. naturally, that created resentment and jealousy.
Thirdly, the schism between Anglican and Catholic church. All monks were catholic.
A Superfluity of Nuns
You know what superfluous means right?
Unnecessary, especially through being more than enough
During the middle ages, there were around 138 nunneries in England, many severely overcrowded. .
Moreover, there was the Anglican-Catholic schism; the abbeys and nunneries were all Catholic.
A Stud of Horses
This one’s pretty evident actually.
In the middle ages, there were 4 types of horses, based on their use –
- destriers, stallions that were used as warhorses by royalty and lords
- palfreys, for general-purpose riding, war and travel,
- coursers, cavalry horses
- rouncies, common horses of no special breeding
And because horses were integral, there used to be huge demand for them and thus there used to be special breeding centres, called stud (from the German word ‘Stute’, meaning mare) farms.
A Damning of Jurors
When King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, he made the right to a trial by jury a law. A “damning” (old French word dampner, from the Latin damnāre, meaning to injure or condemn) verdict was one that found the plaintiff guilty of the crimes they were charged with.
An Incredulity of Cuckolds
The word “cuckold” comes from the habit of the female cuckoo bird putting her eggs into other birds’ nests. The term is applied to husbands who are incredulous to discover that their wives have been unfaithful to them.
A Misbelief of Painters
One aim of medieval portraiture was to present the sitter as they hoped to be remembered after their death. Artists, like poets, were dependent on wealthy patrons for their living, so portrait painters had to strike a balance between truth and flattery. They had to paint the portraits in such a manner that they struck a balance between the actual truth and how the person wanted to be remembered in future. The figures and looks were frequently tweaked to put forward the best face possible. Misbelief meant an erroneous belief, so the painter’s job was to conjure misbelief in those who viewed his work; to create the illusion of beauty even where he found none.
A Parliament of Owls
This one is a comparatively recent entry.
It originates from The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. In turn, it is a reference to Chaucer’s allegorical poem “The Parliament of Fowls”, in which all the birds of the Earth gather together to find a mate. Lewis adapted the title of Chaucer’s poem to describe a council of owls who meet at night to discuss the affairs of Narnia.
A Bloat of Hippopotamuses
Another recent entry. This first appeared in CE Hare’s 1939 hunting and fishing manual The Language of Field Sports. The justification – An average male hippo weighs just under 3,600kg (8,000lb) and their bodies are covered in a layer of subcutaneous fat that helps them to float well. It is likely that they genuinely do spend much of their time with bloated stomachs since their diet is almost exclusively grass, and they can store what they have ingested for up to three weeks.
A Lying of Pardoners
Medieval society was dominated by the church, and the ticket to heaven was an unsullied soul. In pursuit of spiritual purity, but largely unable to resist the occasional temptation, the desperate populace turned to “pardoners” to cleanse them of their sins. Pardoners were usually friars or priests who claimed to be in close contact with the pope, whom they said gave them the power to grant absolution. For a fee, naturally. Not surprisingly, the profession attracted a large number of fraudsters armed with fake papal pardons and bogus relics. Records held by the Corporation of the City of London dating back to the 15th century reveal several cases of “lying pardoners” being put in the stocks.
A Shrewdness of Apes
Monkey see monkey do
Monkey throw shit
For the medieval people, apes and monkeys were mischievous and slightly wicked creatures. Hence, they chose the word shrewdness.
There are a whole bunch of others, some of whom are really funny…and if you think about it, kinda self-explanatory
An entrance of actresses
A culture of bacteria
A tough of lesbians
A shower of meteorologists
A nucleus of physicists
A rhumba of rattlesnakes
A beautification of spatulas
A flock of tourists
A Congress of Baboons
Strictly speaking, this is wrong. Its actually troop.
But let’s face it, anyone who have ever had to deal with Congress will tell you that this is much more appropriate.
However, animal lovers and dictionary makers worldwide have protested the association of Congress and baboons.
They said that the association is extremely unfair and causes emotional stress to the baboons.