Exploring: Collective Pronouns

A Cover of Coots

A Cover of Coots

Yesterday’s writing group was incredibly fun, thanks to Ralph Cornish presenting an exploration of collective pronouns. We’re all familiar with at least a few collective pronouns that we use in regular speech: a hill of beans, a mountain of debt, a litter of pups. But there are so many more fun and interesting collective pronouns. The earliest list dates from around 1450.

For our group writing exercise, Ralph wrote out a selection of collective pronouns and let us pick one from a bowl. We then wrote about our selection for 15 minutes. I grabbed A Transparency of Toupees. That made me so happy.

Ralph picked his selections from a fun, beautifully illustrated book, An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton. an Exaltation of Larks cover

Mr. Lipton sorts the terms of venery (term for hunting game) into six families:

1. Onomatopoeia – a gaggle of geese, a murmuration of starlings

2. Characteristic – a leap of leopards, a skulk of foxes

3. Appearance – a knot of toads, a parliament of owls

4. Habitat – a shoal of bass, a nest of rabbits

5. Comment – richness of martens, a cowardice of curs

6. Error (resulting from an incorrect transcription by a scribe or printer, faithfully preserved in the corrupted form by consequent compilers) – a school of fish, originally shoal

The book contains more than a thousand terms. Here are some of my favorite:

An ingratitude of children

An untruth of summoners

A rhapsody of blues

A wince of dentists

A business of flies

A smack of jellyfish

A labor of moles

An illusion of painters

A worship of writers

A conjunction of grammarians

A browse of readers

Here’s hoping we all find instance to use colorful terms of venery in our writing.

What’s your favorite collective pronoun?

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