Just ask anyone who’s tried learning it and they’ll tell you; English, despite being a vibrant and poetic language, is a little bit of a mess. Compared with other languages English is a bit of a free for all, with strange words coming into common usage from a number of weird and wonderful sources.
Nowhere is this more evident than in our collective terms for animals. It seems like it was open for season for anyone who felt like contributing to the dictionary when it came to deciding these names!
Whilst the most common animals got pretty boring collective tags, like ‘flock’ or ‘herd’ it seems that the people creating these words were forced to get more creative as they got to the more unusual species!
Here are 20 of their best efforts.
1. An Army of Caterpillars
I can sort of see the logic in this one, what with all those feet, even a single caterpillar must sort of march, rather than walk. Still, an army of caterpillars? Sounds like some sort of forgotten 50’s b-movie…
2. A Bloat of Hippopotami
Many collective terms for animals are verbs. As we’ll see later some of these make no sense, but in this case it’s bang on. Bloating is exactly what I’d be doing if I was a large, grey, water-dwelling mammal.
3. A Business of Ferrets
This one has a sinister sort of Wind in the Willows vibe. Ferrets always look like they’re plotting some secret business, maybe that’s how they got the name.
4. A Cast of Hawks
This is a nice one. It sort of gives the impression that hawks are just pretending to be hawks (when they’re lucky enough to find work, the rest of the time they wait tables.)
5. A Gang of Elk
Don’t mess with the mammal mafia!
6. A Murder of Crows
There’s a lot of superstition about crows being a bad omen, probably because they’re carrion and spend a lot of time around dead bodies. Nevertheless, the collective term ‘murder’ seems harsh. After all, murderers don’t tend to hang about the scene of the crime, chowing down…apart form Hannibal, obviously.
7. An Unkindness of Ravens
This is kind of an insult to ravens, who I personally always though of as being more badass than crows. Compared to a ‘murder of crows’ an ‘unkindness of ravens’ sound a bit wimpy, like they might call you a nasty name or something…
8. An Ostentation of Peacocks
OK, so peacocks are little bit showy, but that’s the way nature made them. I think labelling them an ‘ostentation’ is a tad judgemental.
9. A Parade of Elephants
Cue semi hallucinogenic scenes of multi coloured bubble elephants, marching around and singing…
10. A Plague of Locusts
I guessing this name for an average sized grouping of locusts was decided on after the Old Testament was written rather than before, other wise it would make God’s punishment of the Egyptians seem a tad trivial…
11. A Smack of Jellyfish
Such a weird choice of name! I can’t see how they came up with it. A “sting of jellyfish” might have made sense, but a smack? They don’t have bones or muscles, how are they going to manage a smack?
12. A Siege of Herons
This one makes me think of something out of a Hitchcock film…terrifying.
13. A Singular of Boars
I think by this time whoever was in charge of this whole collective naming game was starting get a bit smartass about it…
14. A Kindle of Kittens
This one makes sense! Very cute word for a collection fluffy little things.
15. A Hover of Trout
Similar to “a smack of jellyfish” in that they’ve chosen to use a verb that the animal is incapable of doing for its collective name. Maybe in the future, when everything hovers, this will at least make a little sense.
16. A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies
When they get it right, they really get it right! This a perfect name for a swarm of butterflies, mixing together, fluttering past each other and confusing their colours.
17. A Shrewdness of Apes
A touch flattering perhaps, but a nice name all the same.
18. A Skulk of Foxes
This collective terms perfectly evokes that look foxes have when you come across them in urban environments a night, a look which says “Yeah, I’m not supposed to be here, but what you gonna do?”
19. A Duel of Doves
This is a contender for my favourite collective term. I have no idea about its logic, but I’d love to see some doves having a duel!
20. A Rafter of Turkeys
Unfortunately, this one make me think of unethical farming, with poultry literally packed to the rafters…Sorry, turkeys.
About the author: Jimmy Harbour is an addict for general knowledge and weird facts, as well as a personal trainer offering fitness tips and cheap gym membership.