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.
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!
|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 (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 (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…