My friends and co-workers often harass me for what they call my use of “trivial” words. By “trivial,” they mean words that no one else uses except me. I like to remind them that I once received a free lunch because of my “trivial” knowledge of words.
I was sitting in a sandwich shop waiting for my order. A white board by the cash register said: “This week’s word puzzler. Tell us the term for a group of kittens and your lunch is on the house.”
I recalled my time in library school—before anyone had ever heard of Google—when we were charged with looking up answers to questions like these … and I remembered. The collective term for a group of kittens is kindle.
Since then, I have always been fascinated with terms of venery or words for groups of animals. Oddly enough, the English language is full of them. Here are a few of my favorites, taken from James Lipton’s book An Exaltation of Larks
• clutch of chicks
• pride of lions
• murder of crows
• pod of dolphins
• a skulk of foxes
• brace of ducks (used for ducks in the air)
• paddling of ducks (used for ducks in the water)
• gaggle of geese (used for geese on the ground)
• skein of geese (used for geese in the air)
• warren of rabbits
• shoal of herring
• a yoke of oxen
• sounder of pigs (used for wild pigs)
• passel of possum
• sleuth or sloth of bears
• herd of dinosaurs (used for herbivores)
• pack of dinosaurs (used for carnivores)
• cackle of hyena
• parliament of owls
• bed of oysters
• bale of turtles
Animals that do not have a term of venery include the koala, panda, opossum, and the platypus. Terms of venery can also be applied to people or professions, such as a swarm of salesmen, a plague of epidemiologists, a cell of biologists, an arrangement of florists.
Now, what could we call a group of writers?
Laura Hale Brockway is the author of the grammar/usage/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.