Masthead
One of my photos

A tedium of collective nouns

July 9th, 2020 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

I am in a bit of a miserable ranting mood today so I’ll vent a bit about collective nouns. If there is one aspect of language that irritates me more than coy euphemisms it is collective nouns, and especially the newly-minted ones that always seem to be presented as mildly amusing and perhaps faintly satirical.

Maybe I have no poetry in my soul, but I can’t see what is wrong with just saying “a bunch of dogs”, “a bunch of fish”, “a bunch of students” or  “a bunch of mice”, with ‘lot’ or ‘group’ being perfectly acceptable alternatives to ‘bunch’.

As an aside, I don’t think that in a pack of dogs the word ‘pack’ is entirely a collective noun because it partly describes the behaviour of being pack animals. A dozen random dogs is not a pack of dogs, it is just a bunch of dogs, but a bunch of dogs hunting as a pack is a pack of dogs. Similarly I’m not sure that ‘flock’ is really a collective noun either, but another descriptor of a behaviour. A bunch of birds might be a flock when they are flocking but they are not a flock just because there are more then one of them. What birds are not is a ‘parliament’, a ‘murmuration’, a ‘murder’, or an ‘exultation’!

Apart from anything, it must make it really hard for anybody to learn English when they are worried that they will be ridiculed for referring to a herd of foxes or pack of goats.

The worst of the worst are those collective nouns that are invented just for their humour. People say that puns are the lowest form of wit, but they are wrong. Give me a pun any day over somebody expecting me to laugh when they say “a deceit of politicians”, “a flush of plumbers” or “an algorithm of programmers”. That sort of thing is less funny than an impression that starts with somebody saying “hello, I’m <insert name of person being impersonated here>” because they are so crap at impressions you would never know who it is otherwise.

All these obscure, historical, fanciful or ‘witty’ collective nouns have their place: in literature, poetry and creative writing generally, where we want to see synonyms and variety. Save the florid language for that and in normal speech stick to a bunch of lions, a bunch of geese, a bunch of owls,  a bunch of crows and so on.

Tags:

No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet... Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment

*
To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Click to hear an audio file of the anti-spam word

 

 
Comments Policy:

  • Comments from anyone who is unknown (ie who has not commented before) will go into a moderation queue to be approved. This is to prevent spam/advertising comments and there may be a delay before such comments appear.
  • As far as possible I will not reject moderated comments or delete published comments, even if I disagree with them or if they are criticising me.
  • I intend only to delete/reject comments which are offensive, racist, homophobic, sexist or similar or if they are in any way illegal/libellous.
  • If you think a comment meets those criteria and I might have missed it, let me know.
  • Although technically I am able to edit comments I will not do so unless it is to remove embedded code which is causing problems.
  • If it is ever necessary to edit a comment it will be made clear that it has been edited.
  • Certain words in comments will cause the whole comment to be automatically consigned to the dustbin (Aavaisha, hmmegatest, cognitive, phentermine, xanax, pharmacy, viagra, vicodin, casino, ultram, tamiflu, valium, tramadol, levitra, carisoprodol) for obvious reasons.