Lee Gale of The Guardian discusses one of my favorite oddities of language – the collective noun – and how words like a “wisdom” of owls or a “battalion” of falcons don’t always make it in to the dictionary.
“Collective nouns are treated no differently from any other word,” explains Catherine Soanes, head of online dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “We would need evidence of genuine use in our databases before we would consider adding them to one of our dictionaries. This is why there aren’t dictionary entries for the majority of the nouns, like a murder of crows. There’s no genuine evidence of use. They are just linguistic curiosities.”
With 2 billion words in the Oxford English Corpus database, and initialisms such as LOL, OMG and IMHO (in my humble opinion) recently welcomed by the OED, surely there can be room for a “business” of ferrets or an “unkindness” of ravens. But apparently not. The humorous nature of collective nouns means they are perpetually overlooked for inclusion – although a spokeswoman at Oxford Dictionaries pointed out that a “shrewdness of apes” was her personal favourite.
For those with a linguistic bent and some ideas on what to name a group of . . . well anything really, pop on over to all-sorts.org where you can vote and submit names for everything and anything in numbers. One of my favorites: “an executive of clichés.” It’s almost too good.
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