I know very few people who are as fascinated with the English language as I am (although the few of you I do know are probably reading this right now).
The idiomatic and inconsistent idiosyncrasies that make English so difficult for some to learn are also what make it so beautiful to read and to write.
Take collective nouns, for instance. For the vocabulary-challenged and the non-grammarians, a collective noun is a word used to describe a group of objects, whether it be a group of animals, people, inanimate objects, or even concepts. You'll know them when you see them – some are quite common.
For example: How often have you accused your children of storming through the house "like a herd of buffalo"? You know that fish travel in schools, bees come in swarms, and that dogs and their cousins, the wolves, travel in packs. But you may not know some of the more obscure collective nouns which have come into common – and sometimes rare – use over the many years that the English language has been developing.
When you see some of these, you'll swear that the originators of the terms were endowed with an overactive imagination, or blessed with an abundance of free time, or simply under the influence of very powerful narcotics. But these are all real, and they're all quite weird. Enjoy!
1) At The Water's Edge. While traversing the shores of a stream, river, or even the ocean, you might at any time happen upon a congregation of alligators, a bask of crocodiles, a stand of flamingos, a bloat of hippopotamuses, a mess of iguanas, a fling of sandpipers, an escargatoire of snails, a gulp of cormorants, a knot of toads, or a pod of walruses.
2) In The Water. If you feel like swimming in this particular body of water, whether it's the stream, river, or ocean, you might be lucky enough to encounter a shoal of barbels, a bed of eels, a fluther of jellyfish, a bale of turtles, a hover of trout, or a gam of whales.
3) In The Jungle. If you tire of swimming and want to take a walk on the wild side, perhaps you might fancy a stroll through the jungle. You just may meet up with a shrewdness of apes, a flange of baboons, a destruction of wildcats, a band of gorillas, a leap of leopards, a pandemonium of parrots, a crash of rhinoceroses, an ambush of tigers, a cohort of zebras, or – my personal favorite, for obvious reasons – a cackle of hyenas (or hyena, or hyenae, or hyenæ).
4) On The Plains. If the jungle's not your thing, maybe you'd like to saunter along on the plains, or perhaps the prairie. In so doing, you might perchance catch a glimpse of a gang of elk, a muster of peacocks, an array of hedgehogs, a busyness of ferrets, a mob of kangaroos, a company of moles, or even a blush of boys (that one confuses me).
5) In The Forest. OK, so you're tired of open land and want to get back under a canopy of trees. While walking in the woods, you never know what you might see. Perhaps a cloud of bats if there's a cave nearby, or an army of caterpillars, a parcel of hogs, a descent of woodpeckers, a parliament of owls, a leash of foxes, a bouquet of pheasants, a covey of grouse, a gaze of raccoons, a rafter of turkeys, or – if it's a particularly warm night and your body is full of tasty blood – a scourge of mosquitoes.
6) In The Air. Alas, if you've had your fill of the shore, the water, the jungle, the plains, and the forest, and you feel inclined to take to the sky – assuming you have functional wings, which is assuming a lot – you might be lucky enough to fly alongside a bellowing of bullfinches, a murder of crows, a convocation of eagles, a watch of nightingales, a building of rooks, or – another personal favorite – an unkindness of ravens.
Well, that's about enough of these for now. One was probably enough, but fifty or so collective nouns – well, that's a flurry. Which is the collective noun for a group of words. Of which there are too many here. I'm done. Really, I am. Done.
WAR AND PEACE UPDATE: I'm on Chapter 10 of Book 1 (of 16), which equates to roughly 3% of the book. Slowly but surely, I'll get there one of these days.