Collective Nouns

Posted: April 14, 2011 in Idle Nonsense, Nomenclature, Writing

Neologisms and archaic usage have always intrigued me. While I’m slow to adopt every hip, new coin that finds its way into use, my vocabulary is nonetheless always expanding, which I believe confers greater expressive and emotive power, even if that power is lost on most readers and interlocutors. Indeed, finding a young punk teenager with whom to have a reasonable conversation today is pretty difficult, not just because youngsters substitute attitude for knowing (probably true of youngsters from any era) but because their vocabularies are disastrously small.

Some of the more interesting examples of colorful vocabulary are collective nouns (sometimes called collective plurals, nouns of assemblage, or nouns of multitude) used to identify a group or plurality of things, ideas, concepts, or animals. Most English speakers are familiar with at least a few of the collective nouns for animals, or terms of venery, some of the more colorful ones being listed below:

  • a sleuth of bears
  • a murder of crows
  • a troop of monkeys
  • a clowder of cats
  • a leap of leopards
  • a lodge of beavers

Although usually mistaken as mere turns of phrase, some familiar collective nouns for things and concepts are listed below:

  • a wad of bills
  • a wealth of information
  • a fleet of airplanes
  • a bouquet of flowers
  • a bevy of beauties
  • an embarrassment of riches
  • a deck of cards
  • a body of knowledge
  • a pack of lies
  • a sheaf of papers
  • a course of bricks

Fairly expansive lists of collective nouns are not difficult to find on the Web, and I was surprised to learn from the Wikipedia article than many clever writers have purposely attempted to coin new collective nouns. In The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which I’ve been reading off and on for a few years, Stephen Donaldson frequently takes imaginative poetic license suggestive of collective nouns, usually referring to human emotion. With Donaldson’s phraseology in mind, I started expanding his usage with my own, some of which aren’t strictly plurals. If any of these ever make it into common use, I’d be surprised.

  • a wilderness of despair (Donaldson)
  • a ruin of hopes
  • an accusation of injustices
  • a chorus of freedoms
  • an apocalypse of hate (Donaldson)
  • a gruel of hatred
  • a wisp of souls
  • a coil of mortality (or mortals)
  • a mien of meanings
  • a fund of techniques
  • a trial of initiatives

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