Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Knapsack of Nouns

A "team of lawyers" and a "herd of buffalo" exemplify the figure of speech we call the collective noun, which names a group of people or things.

Many were first recorded in the 15th century in manuals known as "Books of Courtesy," written to keep aristocrats from embarrassing themselves while on the hunt.

These nouns often evoked the behavior of the things named. So, for example, we say:
  • A pride of lions
  • A leap of leopards
  • A burden of mules
  • A murder of crows
  • A gaggle of geese
  • A stud of horses
Other collective nouns evoked the jobs of the people named. So, for example, we say:
  • A tabernacle of bakers (a "tabernacle" was a merchant's stall)
  • A misbelief of painters (artists created illusions)
  • A stalk of foresters (these guys tracked down poachers in the woods)
  • A sentence of judges (who spoke in legalese)
  • A faith of merchants (meant ironically, since most were cheats)
  • A superfluity of nuns (the convents were overcrowded)
To keep you from embarrassing yourself on the next hunt, I recommend these up-to-date collective nouns:
  • A keep of recyclables
  • A fancy of food trucks
  • An annoyance of pop-ups
  • A vanity of celebrities
  • A swamp of congressmen
  • An embarrassment of commanders in chief
HAT TIP to resident medievalist Ann Ramsey for suggesting this post. Opinions are my own.
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