Let’s Talk About… Terms of Venery (Collective Nouns Pt. 2)

Of course, I couldn’t have just one post about collective nouns. Even though it would’ve been ironic if I had…

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A little collective noun humor

If you didn’t catch my last post about collective nouns, here is a refresher: A “collective noun” is a word referring to a collection of similar things taken as a whole.

The interesting thing is that there is a separate term for groups of animals. A collective noun for a group of animals is also called a “term of venery”; venery being an archaic word for “hunting”.

The popularity of terms of venery developed from hunting traditions in the late Middle Ages. It became fashionable in the 1400s to coin hunting terms, spawning hundreds of names for groups of animals and even names for different types of animal droppings. It was expected of an educated gentleman to know these names (even if they had no practical use), and books were published to catalog them. One such publication, the Book of Saint Albans, was popular in the 15th and 16th century and became the go-to reference for these collective nouns, landing many of them in the English lexicon.

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An excerpt from the Books of St. Albans

There are many that most readers will already be familiar with, because they are commonly used today, such as:

  • An army of ants
  • A clutch of chickens
  • A flock of birds
  • A herd of cattle
  • A murder of crows
  • A pack of coyotes
  • A pod of dolphins
  • A pride of lions
  • A school of fish
  • A swarm of hornets

But, just like the humorous collective nouns I explored in my last post, some people got creative, leaving us with some hilarious terms of venery. Thank goodness we don’t have to remember all of these to be fashionable anymore, but they would be a fun compliment to any modern vocabulary.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • An aarmory of aardvarks
  • An ambush of tigers
  • A barrel of monkeys
  • A bellowing of bullfinches
  • A bevy, game, or whiting of swans
  • A bloat of hippopotamuses
  • A bouquet of pheasants
  • A business of ferrets
  • A cackle of hyenas
  • A charm of finches
  • A clutter, glaring, or pounce of cats
  • A congregation of alligators
  • A crash of rhinoceroses
  • A dazzle of zebras
  • A float of crocodiles
  • A gaze of raccoons
  • An intrusion of cockroaches
  • A kindle of kittens
  • A knot of toads
  • A labor of moles
  • A memory of elephants
  • A mustering of storks
  • An ostentation of peacocks
  • A pandemonium of parrots
  • A parcel of hogs
  • A parliament of owls
  • A party of jays
  • A scurry of squirrels
  • A shrewdness of apes
  • A smack of jellyfish
  • A tower of giraffes
  • An unkindness of ravens
  • A wake of buzzards
  • A wisdom of wombats

Your homework: Gather some friends. Introduce a group of zebras into the conversation. Casually refer to them as a “dazzle”. Bask in the feeling of being a proper 15th century gentleman.

(Resources: Mental Floss, OjoHaven, Electric Lit)

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