African Animal Collective Nouns

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The subject to of what to call a 'bunch' of animals is more open to interpretation than we realise. There are surprisingly few 'correct' terms for animals grouped together in the wild and no official list, in isolation. While some of these descriptions, are universally accepted, there are many others that have been made up along the way in keeping with the traits of the animals concerned.

According to Orin Hargraves, president of the Dictionary Society of North America, the most reliable compilation of these 'terms of venery', as they are known, is regarded as the 1968 book "An Exaltation of Larks", by James Lipton. However, some of the better-known ones date back to medieval times and are based on expressions used by the hunters of the day – particularly in the case of birds e.g. a 'brace' of game birds.

While the word 'flock' is generally considered correct for most groupings of birds, most species have been assigned their own collective noun, and several have accumulated quite a few over the years.

Birds of prey are a good example of this, with different terms given according to the activity of the birds at the time.

  • A number of spiralling hawks is called a 'boil'.
  • Hawks flying together are a 'kettle'.
  • Those doing nothing in particular are called a 'cast'.

Vultures are similarly classified into:

  • a 'kettle' while flying
  • a 'colony' when nesting
  • a 'wake' when feeding and
  • a 'venue', the rest of the time.

A 'murder' of crows is one of the more fanciful terminologies, stemming from the species' close association with witchcraft.

Many of these modern terms are descriptive and charming, despite being incorrect, such as a 'prickle' of porcupines, an 'obstinacy' of buffaloes and a 'rumpus' of baboons. A 'crash' of rhino's is probably going to stand the test of time, but you are unlikely to see a 'leap' of leopards in your lifetime, given the solitary nature of these creatures. Perhaps the phrase 'implausibility of' should be applied to these big cats, instead of the gnu (wildebeest), who sometimes gather together in huge numbers!

There are countless amusing collective terms for our African animals many of them concocted by tourists on game drives, and of course by the rangers themselves. Perhaps you have your own favourites, but be sure to ask your ranger what they would collectively name the next group of animals you come across on your drive – maybe it's a dazzle of zebra, or a raft of hippos!


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Wednesday, 12 December 2018