A squawking culmination of collectives

Our latest column from William Thomas

I have always been fascinated by the terms used to describe groups of animals, birds and insects. Somebody put a lot of thought into these collective nouns like an army of ants, a shrewdness of apes and a troop of kangaroos.

Many are not all that original: a drove for a lot of four-footed animals, a flock of almost every bird, a school of this, a pack of that and a herd of damn near everything.

But a charm of goldfinches? Alluring. A kaleidoscope of butterflies? Brilliant. A bed of clams? Happy. A quiver of cobras? Menacing. A caravan of camels? Nomadic. An intrusion of cockroaches? Meddlesome. A flamboyance of flamingos? Majestic. A kindergarten of giraffes? Innocent. A cackle of hyenas? Laughable. A stud of mares? Ironic.

A barrel of monkeys and a barren of mules? Apes and asses together at last. A kit of pigeons? Flight in formation. An unkindness of ravens? Harsh. A prickle of porcupines? Needlessly needling.

A family of sardines? Large family, small can. A stench of Schnauzers? Unkind. And a shiver of sharks leaves surfers trembling.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes? Dance away, dance away. A murder of ravens? Not guilty. A dray of squirrels? Okay. A murmuration of starlings whispering in willows.

A turn of turtles? A knob of waterfowl? A close-knit knot of toads? Snappers, mallards and frogs with warts, all in the same crowded pond.

An ambush of tigers? Sneaky. A boogle of weasels? Scary. A mustering of storks? A baby boom. An ascension of skylarks soaring ever higher.

One of my favorites is a sedge of bitterns because I have no clue as to what either of those words means. But what a conversation stopper.

“I saw a rather large sedge of bitterns today on my walk along the canal.”

“What were they doing?”

“They were staring suspiciously at a chatter of budgerigars.”

Also, I wouldn’t recognize a trip of dotterels if I waded into one and got my bippy bitten.

There are some names attributed to the groups of animals I just can’t agree with. A clowder of cats or a clutter of cats or even a pounce of cats do felines no justice at all. Exclusively and officially, a comfort of cats should suffice.

Similarly, a pack of dogs or a kennel of dogs does little to honor man’s best friend. A delight of dogs should forever rule this grouping.

A kendle, a kindle or a litter of kittens misses the mark of these cuter-than-life little creatures. A litter of pups or a batch of puppies also underwhelms the species. Once and for all, the recognized terms for these groups of young pets should be a cuddle of kittens and a puddle of puppies and yes, string and paper towels do apply.

A bunch of cows are a kine while a dozen cows represent a flink. Geese in the air are a wedge but while puttering around in the water, sadly they’re only a plump. Greyhounds are a leash, apropos, while hares are a husk and hawks are a cast until they take off in large numbers, in which case they become a kettle.

Hippopotami (or hippopotamuses) are a bloat which is quite imaginable and peacocks are a pulchritude, aptly beautiful. Blue jays are a party which could explain their second to last place finish this season. It’s a covey of ptarmigan, a bevy of quail and prairie dogs run in a coterie. A brace of bucks is damn near poetic.

The names of animal groupings almost makes the jump to humans.

A cur can be a snappish dog or a worthless person and a crowd of them is called a cowardice. Ferrets are tricky little weasels and their group is called a business. I don’t know what a widgeon is, but en mass they become a company. Think Enron and you got it.

It’s a parliament of owls but never, ever confuse Ottawa with wisdom.

A mob of cattle is one thing and a tribe of goats another, but a murder of magpies is downright criminal.

A group of foxes is known as a skulk but so far nobody has labeled a bunch of sleazy foxes a skank. And you just know that a congregation of crocodiles has something to do with a conference of lawyers.

A sloth of bears comes very close to bureaucrats while a mob of cattle sends a parcel of birds singing like The Sopranos. A band of gorillas comes perilously close to a … okay, a band of guerrillas.

A deceit of lapwings implies left wing “ad scamming” Liberals while a labour of moles depicts NDP’ers with no vision. A dissimulation of birds speaks to the secrecy of the Conservatives, while a committee of vultures pick over the carcass now led by Andrew Scheer.

On the bright side, a loveliness of ladybirds would make an excellent title for a song by The Good Lovelies.

For comments, ideas and copies of The Legend of Zippy Chippy, go to www.williamthomas.ca.

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