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Nincompoopery and other terms.


My dictionary informs me that the proper term for a group of larks is an exaltation. An exaltation of larks! That's wonderful! And it's so descriptively accurate.

You outdoorsmen probably think you're pretty smart and know all the terms for groups of creatures. We'll see about that right now.

Let's start with an easy one, a group of grouse. "Covey," you say, clapping your hands gleefully. But covey means a "family" of grouse. Suppose you have several families of grouse living together: What do you call that? If they're like the families I know, it would be a "mess." Actually, a group of grouse larger than a covey is a pack. In the interest of linguistic purity, it is important to know the difference between a covey and a pack of grouse. To do this you must learn to distinguish between members of the immediate family and distant relations who have moved in for a bit of freeloading. This is not so difficult as you might think. The freeloaders are the grouse that get up at noon, go around unshaven, and keep asking, "What's for supper?"

Here's something a little tougher. What is the proper term for a group of ferrets? Don't just sit there scratching your head--guess. OK, it's a business of ferrets. What business are the ferrets in? I don't know for sure, but it's probably loan-sharking.

The next term is a cinch--a group of geese. Flock is correct, but only if the geese are standing around killing time. If the group of geese is flying, it becomes a skein. If the geese on the water, they're a gaggle. Subtract 50 points from your score if to any of the above you answered "a bunch of gooses."

One of my favorites among the terms for groups of creatures is a crash of rhinoceros. I can imagine an African guide saying to his client, "Shoot, d----it! Here comes the whole bloody crash of rhinoceros!"

You toad hunters out there probably don't even know that a group of toads is called a knot. Personally, I think I'd just as soon come across a crash of rhinoceros as a knot of toad.

Some of my other favorite group terms are:

* A convocation of eagles. (Not to be confused with a convention of Eagles, who are the ones wearing hats.)

* A charm of hummingbirds.

* A skulk of foxes.

* A chattering of starlings.

* A mustering of storks.

* An unkindness of ravens.

* A siege of herons.

* A leap of leopards.

* A murder of crows.

* A screaming meemie of snakes.

(I just tossed that in.)

To finish off this quiz and give you a chance to redeem yourself, here are two easy ones--a group of elk and a group of bears. The answers are a gang of elk and a sloth of bears. Surely you and your fellow outdoorsmen say things like, "All at once I found myself right in the middle of this gang of elk," or maybe, "Look, Fred! Here comes a sloth of bears! Run!"

I myself use all of the above terms, although it has been some time since I've come upon a leap of leopards. Actually, when it comes to group terms, I prefer "a whole mess of," which is easy to remember in tense situations, such as when a sloth of bears is heading your way.

Sadly, there are no group names for outdoorsmen, who deserve their own group terms just as much as do other wild creatures. In the interest of lexicography, I have invented my own group terms.

Let's begin with Cub Scouts. As with geese, the group terms vary according to what the Cubs are doing. If they are meeting at someone else's house, for example, they are referred to as a den. If they are meeting at your house, they are a din of Cub Scouts, a very important distinction, believe me! A group of den mothers, the adult leaders of Cubs, is a frazzle. Collectively, the husbands of den mothers are the weekly poker game.

There are different names for groups of fishermen in different situations. A group of fishermen driving out to begin a day of fishing is an exuberance. If the day turns out to be unsuccessful, the group is variously referred to as a sulk or a grumble. Fishermen surprised by a herd of mean cows (sometimes known as a mayhem of cows) become a panic of anglers or sometimes a skein of anglers. A group of ice fishermen is a chatter or a chill, although the term loony is often used, particularly by wives of ice fishermen.

As a group, spouses of fishermen off on a three-day lark, or even an exaltation of larks, are variously a crash of wives, a leap of wives, or sometimes a murder of wives. Often a single wife will appear to be a whole group under these circumstances and it is all right to use the appropriate group term, if you get the chance and think it will do any good.

Strangely enough, there are few interesting group names for hunters. For example, a group of lost hunters is referred to as "a group of lost hunters," although wives will occasionally refer to such a group as a nincompoopery. A boast of hunters refers to any group of hunters larger than one. A tedium is any group of hunters who get started talking about their first deer, first elk, or any of their other firsts, of which there are whole exaltations.

As a child, I once joined a berserk of kid campers heading for home after a mountain lion screamed near our camp. It might have been a whole pride of mountain lions, for all I know, but even one was excessive.

A whiff of skunk trappers is one of my favorite group terms, as is a cramp of camp cooks.

But what's that? Did I just hear a lark beckoning me? Gee, it may even be several larks, a whole exaltation of them. It's been a long time since I've gone off on an exaltation. If there's not a leap of wife outside my door, I might go investigate.
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Title Annotation:English group terms; humor
Author:McManus, Patrick
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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