Over the weekend I downloaded Mozilla and started using it for various tasks (including eliminating pop-ups, which was a thrill). Eventually I got around to updating Languagehat. As soon as I hit Publish and checked the front page, I croaked in horror: the typeface was too large, the layout was wrong, links didn’t work, the whole thing was farfoylt, farblondzhet, farkuckt. I tried everything I could think of; nothing helped. And of course today I have a record number of visitors, 179 so far. It’s like having everyone in the neighborhood drop in on the very day your house has been savaged by the Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde. I hope you will take a look at the archives to see the clean, pleasing look of Classic Languagehat, and bear with me until order is restored. This will definitely happen in the next couple of weeks, because Jan. 31 marks the six-month anniversary of Languagehat, and I am determined to change to Movable Type by then. In the meantime, I don’t want to leave you with nothing but bitching and moaning, so here are a fine discussion of Entish and a general query.

Query. There is an interesting thread on MetaFilter about collective terms for animals, from the normal (a pride of lions, a flock of geese) to the fanciful (an unkindness of ravens, and of course the famous “exaltation of larks”). S. Cody asked “whether this phenomenon occurs in other languages,” and I said I wondered myself. More specifically:

I’m sure hunters elsewhere had comparable terms, but they would have stayed within the professional circle (so to speak) and never have penetrated the wider world of literature, and thus would have died out with the premodern culture of hunting. But it’s possible that other languages have comparably specific terms (though probably without the facetious additions) that simply don’t show up in bilingual dictionaries, like other rare words that aren’t of much use to anyone but specialists.

So… anybody know? (Avva, if this exists in Russian, I’m sure you know or can find out.)

Update. As you can plainly see, the template has been unfarblondzhet. I owe Songdog several beers.


  1. My favorite of the less-serious ones is a surprise of unicorns.

    And yes, Avva, if terms like these exist in Russian, I’d like to know, too. Please post! 🙂

  2. Hi LH,

    In Portuguese we have quite a few collectives for animals, objects and people. Some of them sound far-fetched today. There is a list here and both Aurélio and Houaiss electronic editions have special sections dedicated to collectives.

    Here are some of my favorites:

    choldra de brinquedos (toys)
    cáfila de camelos (camels)
    súcia de facínoras (cruel assassins!)

    Here you can find not only the animal collectives but also the verbs used to describe the sounds they make.

    But I admit the PT collectives are not by far as intriguing as the English ones.


  3. Thanks, Merm! I’ve added the reference to the MeFi thread (though probably nobody’s reading it any more). Cáfila is derived from qafila, the Arabic word for ‘caravan,’ which is also the source of English coffle ‘a train of slaves or animals fastened together’ — a sad semantic comedown.

  4. I don’t think German has fancy collective terms. I mean, there’s “eine Herde” usually for grazing animals and such, both wild and domestic, e.g. eine Herde Schafe/Kühe/Zebras, “ein Rudel” usually for predators and other wild animals that are not in large herds, e.g. ein Wolfsrudel, ein Rudel Löwen, ein Rudel Wildschweine, and “ein Schwarm” for birds, fish and insects, but I can’t come up with others.

  5. The rather pedantic and cumbersome practice of imposing these (all right, arguably) superfluous and virtually unused terms onto everyday language has bothered me for some time. Sure, they are recreationally amusing but, in most cases, seem forced and hardly elegant. Their descriptive function also seems minimal. Or, perhaps, they’re just a pet peeve…:)
    Below is the info I’ve been able to assemble on collective terms for animals in Russian.
    Косяк – большое скопление рыб, млекопитающих и других животных.
    Стая – в широком смысле – временное объединение животных одного вида, связанное общностью места обитания или выплода. Стаи млекопитающих и рыб относительно немногочисленны. Стаи птиц или насекомых могут состоять из тысяч и миллионов особей. Стая – у млекопитающих – сравнительно постоянное немногочисленное объединение родственных особей с четко выраженной этологической структурой.
    Стадо – достаточно многочисленное и относительно постоянное объединение диких животных одного вида, обитающих на определенной территории. (And more on the multitude of uses.)
    Кулига – скопление личинок саранчовых.
    РОЙ, Стая летающих насекомых.
    ТАБУН (тюрк.), сформированная человеком группа однородных (по породе, полу, возрасту) лошадей, содержащихся на пастбище.
    ВЫВОДОК, дка, м. Птенцы или детёныши млекопитающих, выведенные одной самкой и держащиеся вместе.
    From Dal’:
    Юро, юрово — арх. ятва, стая, косяк, руно рыбы; стадо или залежка тюленей, моржей, белух, морского зверя.
    And this for a comparison of English and Russian usage of some of these words.

  6. Aha! Thanks, Elena; that confirms my suspicion that Russian doesn’t really have such terms, since the ones you list are equivalent to general terms such as flock, herd, school, and the like rather than “an unkindness of ravens.” But I don’t think anyone’s “imposing these terms onto everyday language”; rather, some people get a kick out of knowing they exist. It’s sort of like collecting matchbook covers. Perfectly harmless, and needn’t bother the uninterested.

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