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a dissimulation of birds

Collective nouns (not to be confused with mass nouns like water, sand or coffee) describe groups of countable things, people or animals. For animals, English has a large and colorful store of collective nouns, also known as terms of venery. Some well-known examples are a school of fish, a pack of wolves and a pride of lions.

But it's in collective nouns for birds that English really goes overboard. Here are some of the strangest and most poetic:

  • A dissimulation of birds
  • An unkindness of ravens
  • A murder of crows
  • An exaltation of larks
  • A parliament of owls
  • A dole (or dule) of doves
  • An eyrar of swans

(And many more in these lists for birds and for mammals.)

The practice also extended to people, with hilarious examples like an illusion of painters or an impatience of wives. In modern times, this has evolved into a kind of poetic sport, with coinages like an annoyance of neighbors.

And ultimately: a yawn of collective nouns.

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One comment

these are great! especially "a persuasion of prophets". and the sheer plurality of "an itself of Yahwehs" (or is Yahweh a mass noun? i guess this is where grammar meets theology...)

bv (URL), 15-12-’09 17:27

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