Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 17: Collective Noun Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark United States Supreme Court decision that changed American Education. On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The decision was to end the segregation of public schools and reverse the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that established the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. In the Plessy case, an African American named Homer Plessy was tried for his refusal to sit in a separate railroad car. Plessy v. Ferguson segregated blacks and whites in many areas of common life from water fountains to the school house. The Court’s decision in Brown started the slow march toward desegregation of American schools by stating: "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" (1).

The word segregation and desegregation share the common Latin root greg which means flock, as in people coming together in a group. Below are other words that relate to people or things coming together or, in the case of egregious, things standing out outside of the flock.

Aggregate: A sum total or mixing together to constitute a whole (ag-, toward + greg, flock)

Congregate: To gather together into a crowd or group (con-, together + greg, flock)

Egregious: Extremely bad. Flagrant. Standing out from the group (e-, out + greg, flock)

Gregarious: Tending to live in flocks or herds; Sociable (greg, flock)

The word flock is a collective noun, which The American Heritage College Dictionary defines as, "A noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit."

You run into collective nouns most often when you are talking about groups of animals, as in a pride of lions or a school or shoal of fish. In an earlier age when hunting was more common, the knowledgeable sportsman could correctly identify not only individual species but also the appropriate collective noun. In 1486, Dame Juliana Berners complied a book of more than one hundred collective nouns called The Book of St Albans (1).

Here are some examples of collective nouns:

An array of hedgehogs

A brood of hens

A cloud of grasshoppers

A dray of squirrels

An exaltation of larks

A fall of woodcocks

A gaggle of geese (in flight: a skein of geese)

A herd of deer

A leap of leopards

A mumble of moles

A nye of pheasants

A parliament of owls

A rout of wolves

A shrewdness of apes

A tittering of magpies

An unkindness of ravens

A watch of nightingales

Today’s Challenge: A Daze of Collective Nouns
Think about any specific types of people or things, and create your own collective nouns. Hold your own collective noun contest at your school or workplace. Below are some examples:

A stretch of rubber bands
A squabble of siblings
A flush of toilets
A speedo of swimmers
A trip of klutzes
A ton of weightlifters
a chew of gummy worms
a keg of drunkards
a headache of homework
a crash of computers

Quote of the Day: You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of discussion. --Plato

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Manser, Martin. The Guinness Book of Words (2nd Edition). Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd, 1988.


Joy said...

Great, there goes my day. I'm going to be thinking of a score of shoppers or a band of babies or or I don't know but this shall consume me.

Joy (but not your wife)
(wow, lots of work for the privlege of leaving a comment)

Joy said...

Oh shoot. Now do I have to write privilege 10 times? Once upon a time I could spell correctly.....


Neel Mehta said...

A speedo of swimmers

Talk about your genericide.

Great idea. I love wordplay and yet I've never thought to create collective nouns.

A copperfield of magicians
A scandal of senators
A matlock of senior citizens

This is fun!