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There is nothing quite like a collective noun. At once descriptive and evocative, collective nouns are fun to know and employ: a murder of crows and a school of fish easily come to mind.

A collective noun refers to a collection of things taken as a whole and can be broken down into two categories: groups and terms of venery. Group nouns are words that describe general categories, eg: a school of fish, a flock of birds, etc. The key is the generality of the words. Group nouns additionally include individual “count” nouns like team and government eg: one team, two governments, etc. Terms of venery, however, are a little more interesting and complex.

Terms of venery have been used since the late Middle Ages, as detailed in the Book of Saint Albans, among others. They are words that are specifically paired with groups of animals, people, and things, and in the case of animals, were originally developed as specialized hunting terminology. Such words are only used with the specific groups. For example, no one has ever heard of a parliament of baboons, but owls regularly flock together in such a form of government. Additionally, a discretion of tattle-tales is absurd, whereas a discretion of priests fits well with the practice of confession. My favorite term of venery, which has sadly fallen out of use, is an eloquence of lawyers, although I’ve heard it argued that a flatulence might be more accurate.

The following are common, and less common, collective nouns and terms of venery:

Collective Nouns Terms of Venery
A shoal of fish A murder of crows
A pod of whales An exaltation of larks
A flock of birds A gaggle of geese
A swarm of insects A swarm of eels has sadly
fallen out of style
A herd of cattle (oxen,
buffalo, elephants, etc.)
A paddling of ducks when
located on the water
A  colony of ants (bees,
rabbits, prairie dogs, etc.)
A bank of swan (on the ground)
A wedge of swans (in flight)

The most wonderful aspect of collective nouns and terms of venery is their constant evolution and creation. Recent examples include a tuxedo of penguins and a smack of jellyfish. I’ve even come up with two of my own:

A lariat of landmen

A meticulous of title attorneys

Click HERE for everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about collective nouns.

CategoryCollective Nouns
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