Collective Nouns – The Fun Uncle of the Writing World

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Let me start by saying Happy New Year, everyone.

As you may have gathered from this article’s title, I’m going to talk about collective nouns. I love collective nouns. Writing is filled with stuffy grammar rules that no one really likes, and which were created by the gods of writing to torture and torment schoolchildren and adults alike for centuries to come. Collective nouns are one exception. These are words used to describe groups of things: People, animals; almost anything that can be in multiples. And while there are some well-known ones, a murder of crows, for example, there are no hard, fast rules. My theory on this is that the ancient writing ancestors were celebrating the yule festivities with a snifter of mead which help relax their normal stick-up-the-arse outlook. All of a sudden, Roger, the fun one of the group, produced a bag of dubious looking mushrooms. He offered them around to the to others who, not wanting to look like a bunch of squares, joined in.

And so began the creation of the collective noun. This is why we have such gems as ‘A congress of baboons’, ‘A parliament of owls’. and ‘A smack of jellyfish’. (Yes, that last one is real).

This is why I love collective pronouns. They are the rebels of the language. They are the cool uncle who sneaks you the beer at the family gathering; who catches you smoking and asks for a light instead of snitching to your parents. And the best part is, you can actually make up your own when you’re writing. It’s your world, your rules.

Just for fun, here are a few of my favourites:

  • A rhumba of rattlesnakes – I love the imagery.
  • A bike of bees – It might seem an odd one but actually comes from the old usage of bike to mean colony or nest.
  • A gang of elk – Every seen an elk up close? Yeah, you just stepped into the wrong neighbourhood.
  • A horde of hamsters – The Dwarfs of the rodent world
  • A flange of baboons – For when you don’t want to get political

These are a mere taster of what is out there. As you can see, there are often multiple terms for groups of things. The baboons have at least two. This is what’s great, you can pretty much come up with your own. Remember that language is a living, fluid entity. It grows, it evolves.

Curiously there is no real collective noun for a group of writers. Admittedly we are a fairly solitary bunch but on occasion, we do gather. And I think it’s time we had something semi-official at the very least. The most common one I see bounced around is ‘A procrastination of writers’. Rather apt as we are all guilty of it. What would be your suggestion for what to call ourselves?


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