Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Terms of Venery

 I love collective nouns: they are often so obscure. But who would have thought that there was a collective noun for the collective nouns of animals?

Well, there is, and it is "terms of venery".


Terms of venery don't apply to anything other than animals though. The OED has a fabulous list of collective nouns (including people and modern, such as a stack of librarians or a groove of DJs) at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/what-do-you-call-a-group-of and http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/08/collective-nouns/ 

Some terms of venery are delightfully evocative of the animals which inspired them: a turn of turtles; a plump of wildfowl; a kindle of kittens; a peep of chickens; a cry of hounds.

The idea behind collective nouns is pretty old; the Book of St Albans of 1486 lists of 'proper terms' for groups of things we talk about every day. Interestingly, I have no idea why on earth anyone in England would need a collective noun for Hippopotami in the 1400s, but hey. There is one, so for any awkward social situations where you need to suddenly point and say "Oh, wow, there's a load of hippos on the lawn", you can seem much more erudite and say instead "I say, chaps! There's a bloat of hippopotami by the Chinese garden!" instead.

Like me, Joseph Strutt was a collector of collective nouns. He, however, published many in the Sports and Pastimes of England (1801, p. 19), often taking a rather tongue in cheek approach. and developed some new and entertaining ones, such as a state of princes and a draught of butlers :-)

There is a lovely list of new and old collective nouns and terms of venery at http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_collective_nouns_by_subject

Sam

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