“Have a Gander at that Gaggle of Geese!”

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Collective or mass nouns assigned to different groups of animals are perhaps one of the most curious peculiarities of the English language; with evidence of some terms originating in the fifteenth century, used amongst the privileged members of society for hunting activities. There are a number of books, know as Books of Courtesy from these times that included extensive lists of collective nouns, the most famous of these are perhaps the The Egerton Manuscript and The Book of St Albans.

Many of the terms relate to the behaviour, physical characteristics or other well known features of the animals themselves and therefore have a variety of connotations. For example, within the category of mammals listed below we can already observe some terms that relate to the abovementioned features.

Apes tend to have a powerful presence and due to their great stature can come across as quite commanding and dominant, this could perhaps be why their collective name is troop. Apes are also well known for their intelligence, which provides an explanation as to why the other collective noun assigned to apes is shrewdness.

Camels received their collective nouns of caravan or train as they are often the main form of transport for humans and/or products across the desert.

raccoon1

The mass noun given to a group of raccoons is gaze, and we can see why. Their dark eyes, and the fur that surrounds them, do give the impression that the raccoons are fixated by something, or someone – adorable, we know!

 

Mammals

Apes – Shrewdness, Troop Leopards – Leap
Camels – Caravan, Train Moles – Labour, Company, Movement
Cheetahs – Coalition Raccoons – Gaze
Giraffes – Tower Zebras – Zeal, Crossing, Dazzle, Cohorts, Herd
Hedgehogs – Array
Hippopotamuses – Bloat

 

As for our feathered friends, these have what one might call, slightly more sofisticated names – in some cases.

A general group of game can be called a volary, a brace or a plump, whilst a group of owls can be referred to as a parliament or a stare.

There is something quite comical however about imagining a raft, team or paddling of ducks, a mob of emus, or a gaggle of geese; playing on the behaviour and daily activities of the animal, the stature or the sounds they make.

 

Birds

Birds (Game) – Volary, Brace, Plump Birds (Ground) – Flock, Dissimulation
Birds (Sea) – Wreck Geese (Flight) – Skein
Ducks (Water) – Raft, Team, Paddling Geese (Ground) – Gaggle, Herd, Corps
Emus – Mob Magpies – Tiding, Gulp, Murder, Charm
Geese (General) – Flock

Other animal group nouns follow this pattern and similar criteria has been used to establish their collective noun; often, also using how humans perceive them. For example, nobody wants an intrusion of cockroaches in their house, or a plague of locusts!

 

Fish

Fish (General) – Draft, Nest, Shoal, School

Reptiles and Amphibians

Alligators – Congregation

Athropods and Mollusks

Ants – Colony, Army, Swarm, Nest Locusts – Plague
Cockroaches – Intrusion Snails – Escargatoire, Rout, Walk
Lice – Flock

And what do you call a group of translators, spotted together in the wild? We’ll leave that up to your imagination…