A memory of elephants and other collective nouns for animals

Memory of elephants: collective nouns for animalsMost people will be familiar with the terms gaggle of geese, litter of puppies, pride of lions and school of dolphins.

Yet there are many other collective nouns for animals – known as “terms of venery” – that are less well known but equally worthy.

Origins of collective nouns

As with most words in the English language, collective nouns have evolved over time. Many have been with us for centuries, while new variations or completely new ones are emerging all the time.

According to the Oxford Dictionary blog, the first collective nouns were typically for groups of animals and birds. For example, a parliament of rooks, a murmuration of starlings and an unkindness of ravens can each be traced back as far as the 15th century.

The first ‘collection’ of collective nouns in English is “The Book of St Albans“, printed in 1486 in three parts covering hawking, hunting and heraldry. Many of these nouns are still in circulation today, but some never really caught on, such as a fall of woodcocks and a shrewdness of apes.

A-Z of collective nouns for animals

You might wish to familiarise yourself with this alphabetical selection of collective nouns for animals, birds and insects; after all, you never know when they might come in handy! Some are fairly logical, others less so…

Army of caterpillars

Bask of crocodiles

Crash of rhinoceroses

Destruction of wild cats

Exaltation of larks

Flutter of butterflies

Glaring of cats

Hover of trout

Intrusion of cockroaches

Knot of toads

Labour of moles

Memory of elephants

Nye of pheasants

Ostentation of peacocks

Pandemonium of parrots

Quiver of cobras

Raft of ducks (on water)

Smack of jellyfish

Troop of kangaroos

Unkindness of ravens

Volary of birds

Wisdom of wombats

Yoke of oxen

Zeal of zebras

Over to you

Which are your favourite collective nouns for animals? I particularly like pandemonium of parrots and smack of jellyfish as they seem rather apt. And I wonder if a memory of elephants led to the phrase “an elephant never forgets”?

(photo courtesy of worradmu via Freedigitalphotos.net)


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2 comments on “A memory of elephants and other collective nouns for animals
  1. Jo Tidball says:

    They’re all incredible aren’t they. I always wonder how and why they evolved. Some just seem to have been invented for comedy purposes.

    It reminded me of this lovely set of flash cards I bought a few years ago http://www.amazon.co.uk/Raft-Otters-Collective-Nouns-Flash/dp/1452106320

    • And these just represent the tip of the iceberg as I decided to only pick one per letter of the alphabet. I love the flash cards – wish I’d seen those when my two were younger!

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