4.08.2008

On Animal Group Names

So we all know the standard flock of birds, herd of horses, pack of wolves, etc. And I thought, well, you know, I'm not totally sure what you'd call a bunch of snakes, so I thought I'd look it up, and ended up wasting too much time reading lists of animal collective names.

I knew of a murder of crows, of course, because it sounds dramatic and particularly badass when you're a thirteen-year-old goth-girl writing your first fanfic. (I wasn't thirteen when I wrote my first fanfic and I'm not and never was a goth, but that doesn't mean I'm above throwing around stereotypes and mocking all the thirteen-year-old goth-girls out there. I never said I was nice. And incidentally, Word 2003 counts "badass" as a real word. That's cool.) I'd also heard of the corresponding unkindess of ravens. Apparently a bunch of crows can also be called a horde of crows or a parcel of crows, but those just lack the panache of "murder of crows". I mean, come on, a parcel of crows? That makes me think of brown paper packages tied up with strings, which makes me think of The Sound of Music and that's not very conducive to writing things full of emo angst and melodramatic lovelorn gothiness.


Some animals get far more than their fair share of alternative group names. The websites I perused all agreed that dolphins are but a pod, while peacocks are variously described as being a party, a pride, a muster, or an ostentation. I guess I’m not that surprised considering that peacocks are showy little bastards in the first place and so it figures that they'd have a bunch of names for themselves. Foxes also get several names, gathering into a leash, an earth, a lead, a skulk, or a troop.

The names often emphasize a particular animal's symbolism in society, such as say a pitying of doves or piteousness of turtledoves (doves can also gather into an arc, a dule, or a flight), or a business of ferrets, or a pride of lions. (Took me a while back when Lion King II: Simba's Pride came out to realize the pun inherent in its title. I never said I was fast, either.) Larks and skylarks sure get to sound exciting being an exaltation or ascension of larks and exultation of skylarks.

Then there are the names that are moderately more boggling. Take jellyfish, for instance: a smack of jellyfish. Maybe there's some kind of obscure marine biology terminology or slang that explains the inexplicable choice of "smack" for describing a group of jellyfish. Or maybe the name just smacks of weirdness because jellyfish are so damn weird-looking. There's also goldfish—you know what groups of goldfish are called? A glint of goldfish, which is fine by me because goldfish are, after all, shiny—or a troubling of goldfish. Which troubles me because goldfish are the most normal and inoffensive kind of pet fish you can get, except for that spooky fish from the only episode of South Park I've ever seen.

A wreck of seabirds is actually rather fitting, except that would sound terribly ill-omened to me if I were sailor—no wonder the Ancient Mariner shot the albatross. (Though apparently you call a bunch of albatrosses a rookery; there are other birds gather in rookeries too, like penguins, which also gather in colonies, and seals, which are not birds and also gather in pods and herds.)

These group names can be subcategorized too, such as for crocodiles, which become a bask of crocodiles on land and a float of crocodiles in water. Pheasants are a bouquet when flushed into the air, a nide when in brood, and in general form a nest or nye of pheasants. Geese in general form flocks, while in flight they form skeins and on the ground they form gaggles.

See? Distracted—completely sidelined by looking up all these weird animal group names. I totally meant to just mention a few oddities and amusing tidbits and then make a brief post on snakes.

So snakes: In general, a group of snakes can be referred to as a bed, knot, den, nest, or pit of snakes. Then we get to subcategorize again, because vipers form generations, cobras form quivers, and rattlesnakes form rhumbas. Ain't that catchy? I like the alliteration they've got going there.

However, I could not find on these collective-term-lists a name for a bunch of serpents. Undoubtedly this is because these lists were focusing on non-mythological creatures populating the animal kingdom, which is why they didn't list such things as a choir of angels, a quarrel of lawyers, or a glory of unicorns--and anyway, most people would probably just lump snake and serpent together.

I do seem to recall though that serpents in a group are referred to as a tangle. I asked several of my friends (including my dear Krispy) and they all agreed, yes, a tangle of serpents. Some cursory Google searching would seem to indicate that this term derives from the fact that the Greek Medusa has a tangle of serpents upon her head instead of hair; other than that and the fact that if you throw a bunch of serpents together they're probably going to look tangled, well, I don't really know if the term has any more significance or origin than that. Plus, Robin Hobb refers to groups of sea serpents as "tangles" in her Liveship Traders trilogy.

Being that Krispy and I are dealing with cosmic serpents, I believe we have a cosmic tangle on our hands. Or a cosmic bed. Or a cosmic knot, a cosmic den, a cosmic nest, a cosmic pit, a cosmic generation, a cosmic quiver, a or a cosmic rhumba. Things just sound so much more awesome when you add "cosmic" in front of it, don't you think?

6 comments:

Krispy said...

Sounds like a cosmic catastrophe. :) Back to studying. I lurve our snakie-poohs. (I'm sure they don't appreciate that terminology though.)

Inkblot said...

*is highly amused and immensely distracted*

I mean seriously, a troubling of goldfish?

:D

Alz said...

I know! It makes them sound so shady and sad. Unkindness of ravens and murder of crows are all dramatic and fitting, but a troubling of goldfish...!

Alz said...

And, Krispy, our snakie-poohs...it sounds like a pooh of snakes. WINNIE THE POOH. *cough* Okay, that made no sense, but sense has never been my strong point.

Joyce said...

I love animal group names (collective nouns). I find most fascinating animals who have a different name depending on the situation. For example, Penguins are a Raft in water but a Waddle on dry land. Or the age of the animals. For example, Rabbits are a Colony, Bury, or Nest, while young rabbits are a Wrack; Cats are Clowder, Cluster, or Glaring, while kittens are a Kindle or Litter. Nevertheless, wild cats are a Destruction.

Joyce S

hrwilliams said...

I believe it's called a flight of dragons. That's what they titled the books and movie, anyway.