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The deception of collective nouns

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Every now and then, humorous word lists will be circulated on the internet via social media and email, listing wild and hilarious collective nouns which will then be shared.

And shared.

And shared. Before you know it, people suddenly believe at face value that you get a desperation of divorcees, a tassel of strippers, or even an embarrassment of emos.

In this day and age where Urban Dictionary is a thing, it’s not unusual for words to evolve from humorous beginnings – but surely that’s not how it was done in ‘the good old days’? Well actually, you’d be surprised.

The most well-known collective nouns are actually terms of venery – a term for a group of animals. These terms stem from French and English hunting terminology in the beginning of the 14th century, which found their way to court where it was considered fashionable to adapt and extend the language. By the time the 15th century rolled around, the terms had become somewhat silly and satirical.

In 1486, the Book of Saint Albans was published; ‘a compilation of matters relating to the interests of the time of a gentleman’ (Ernest Fraser Jacob 1968 ‘Essays in Later Medieval History’), which included a list of 164 words. Not all of the words were terms of venery but related instead to different professions and peoples and were clearly meant to be a joke. Examples include: a sentence of judges, a gaggle of women, and a melody of harpers. Due to the popularity of the list, many of the terms became included in the Standard English lexicon, despite their rather facetious beginnings.

And really, isn’t that how language evolves? Words are coined to fill a gap in our vocabulary and given enough time in common use, they are eventually bestowed the honour of being added to one of the more prestigious dictionaries. Just last year in December, the words adulting, dashcam, oversharing, and adorakable (my personal favourite) were added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

And so is it really that much of a stretch to consider that one day the more humorous collective nouns doing the rounds at the moment will become part of the modern day Standard English lexicon? I think not, so I’ll leave you with some of the more outrageous collective nouns that you’ll likely see doing the rounds.

A wunch of bankers (see what they did there?)
A rain of cats and dogs (this is almost Dad joke worthy)
An ingratitude of children (coined by a frustrated mother no doubt)
An extinction of dodos (too soon, man)
A bout of estimations (*shakes head sadly*)
An unemployment of graduates (glass half empty much?)
A shush of librarians (rude!)
An abandonment of orphans (ouch!)
You can check out the entire list by going to https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_collective_nouns_by_subject.