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AWADmail Issue 13June 16, 1999
A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
Last week's theme featured a series of collective nouns and invited readers to contribute their own coinages. What an outpouring of clever word brewing it produced! It was a treat to read the creative expressions; however, winnowing a few from over a thousand to include here was not.
While these inventions were no doubt concocted in a playful spirit, one can't fail to notice a reflection of life itself in the fanciful idioms of day-to-day experience. From "a succor of grandmas" (Daniel Cummings dan polysense.com) to "a patience of tech support callers" (A.J. Coco ajcoco marshal.co.orange.ca.us), and "a whatever of teenagers" (Amy Guskin aguskin eamdc.com) to "a digression on web-searchers" (J.J. Hill library alznsw.asn.au), we witness our fears, follies, annoyances and attitudes.
The collective nouns ranged from those used to describe people from the world's oldest profession, "an anthology of pros," to the newest one, "a spider of webmasters," both suggested by a large number of readers. Almost every other calling in between was included. It seems the law profession is everyone's favorite choice for flagellation. Here are some of the choicest:
As may be imagined, many took shots at other occupations stereotypically contemptible, such as tax-collectors and government officials. Enough bashing already. Let's see some other selections:
The most popular collective term was a giggle of girls. Some other collective nouns that employ spoonerism, pun, blend, and other linguistic devices:
Ann Elise Smoot (ann.elise dial.pipex.com) asked, "I've really enjoyed the words this week, being an animal lover. I read recently that a group of larks is called an exaltation. Is this true? It doesn't confirm this in my dictionary. If it is true, what a wonderful fact!"
Yes, Ann, it is "an exaltation of larks." In fact this is the title of a book by James Lipton. This delightful book is a treasury of collective nouns from whimsical (a split of schizoids) to inspiring (a blur of Impressionists). Find it in your local library or a friendly neighborhood bookstore. If you need more, try "A Crash of Rhinoceroses" by Rex Collings.
Francis S.M. Barnett (fbarnett kamloopslawyers.com) sent this correction, "If you announce that you are in a sounder of swines, the grammarian ranger will not mourn your passing. Swine is the singular and plural for this usage (although for colloquial usage as a term of contempt, the plural with an "s" is acceptable)." Thank you!
We close with a couple of stories. From L. Rivlin (l.rivlin btinternet.com): "A few years ago, John Major invited some ex-prime ministers for a get-together at 10, Downing Street. I think it was Harold MacMillan, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher (I'm only absolutely sure about MacMillan and Thatcher). While they were there, Thatcher speculated about the proper word denoting a group of prime ministers. MacMillan suggested that the correct term would be: a lack of principals."
David Steelman (steelman ficnet.net) wrote, "I recall the story about a man and wife sitting in a bar. Another man came in and sat down next to the woman. As he sipped his drink, he ogled her until her husband, incensed, demanded that the man stop looking at his wife and wipe those filthy thoughts out of his mind. The man said, `I wasn't ogling your wife; I wasn't thinking any filthy thoughts; I just came in here for a piece of beer.' Since this `measure` word is normally associated with another noun and not with beer, it gives the lie to the man's words."
A word of thanks to everyone who took the challenge and contributed.
Your lexic ally,
A word is dead / When it is said, / Some say. / I say it just / Begins to live / That day. -Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
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