Let’s Talk About… Collective Nouns

As a certified word nerd, linguistic humor is my favorite. And, for some unknown reason, I find clever collective nouns to be hilarious.

February-12-2012-18-29-49-atempt

If you don’t find this funny, we can’t be friends.

A “collective noun” is a word referring to a collection of similar things taken as a whole. For example, you frequently see collective nouns used for humans, like a group, a team, or even the word government describes a collection of people. A collective noun for a group of animals is also called a “term of venery”, which I will explore in a future post and discuss how their popularity spawned many of the terms we have now.

There are also sneaky collective nouns that you may not realize you use on a daily basis, like a flight of stairs, a pad of paper, and a load of laundry.

Here are some other common examples that you may use often:

  • A bank of monitors
  • A battery of tests
  • A belt of asteroids
  • A bouquet or bed of flowers
  • A bunch of grapes
  • A cast of actors
  • A chain of islands
  • A chorus of angels
  • A class of students
  • A constellation of stars
  • A deck of cards
  • A fleet of ships
  • A forest of trees
  • A heap of trash
  • A host of angels
  • A library of books
  • A pair of ships
  • A pantheon of gods
  • A range of mountains
  • A ring of keys
  • A rope of pearls
  • A round of drinks
  • A string of pearls
  • A wealth of information

An explosion of collective nouns occurred in the 15th century, as inventing them became a game and means of social commentary. As more popped up in our language, a few jokesters also starting introducing humorous or light-hearted names for groups of people, such as a sentence of judges or a flush of plumbers. I love the ingenuity of whoever come up with some of these!

Here are a few of my favorites*:

  • An abandonment of orphans
  • An addition of mathematicians
  • An archive of programmers
  • An audit of bookkeepers
  • A babble of linguists
  • A bevy of beauties
  • A billow of smokers
  • A colony of microbiologists
  • A fascination of on-lookers
  • A flock of tourists
  • A following of stalkers
  • A giggle of girls
  • A handful of palm readers
  • A mass of Catholics
  • A mess of little boys
  • A mixture of pharmacists
  • A murmur of nuns
  • An om of Buddhists
  • A ponder of philosophers
  • A reflection of narcissists
  • A shortage of dwarves
  • A shower of meteorologists
  • A snap of photographers
  • A sprig of vegetarians
  • A stack of librarians
  • A sulk of teenagers
  • An upyours of New Yorkers
  • A wave of surfers

And here are a few extra, fun collective nouns for objects*:

  • An accompaniment of condiments
  • An agenda of tasks
  • A babel of words
  • A blessing of unicorns
  • A blaze of dragons
  • A burden of yolks
  • A hug of teddy bears
  • A jam of tarts
  • A line of pencils
  • A luck of dice
  • A pack of suitcases
  • A ring of telephones
  • A stir of spoons
  • A tumult of tubas

And, my personal favorite, a charlotte of webpages.

This list only begins the conversation about collective nouns, because we haven’t even started talking about “terms of venery”. Stay turned for Part Two!

*Note: Not all of these are “confirmed” or listed in many reputable publication, but the great thing about words is that you get to have fun making them up!

(Resources: Mental Floss, OjoHaven, Electric Lit, Rod Chu)

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