Call me a big fat nerd, but I love collective nouns - a gaggle of geese, a peep of chickens, a cloud of gnats, a cackle of hyenas, a skulk of foxes. Fabulous! So descriptive.
And how about a smack of jellyfish? Isn’t that exactly the noise that a jellyfish would make if you plonked it down on a marble slab? SMACK! If you tipped a barrel-load of jelly fish onto the floor, you would surely hear SMACK-SMACK-SMACK-SMACK-SMACK!!! It’s probably how you’d feel, too, if you swam into a smack of jellyfish - as though you had been slapped and smacked all over. The stinging, the welts, the pain! Ouchy-wah-wah!
Then we have the bears - it is either a sleuth of bears or a sloth of bears. I like to think that we’d call them a sleuth of bears when they are using their wits to find a bee hive full of honey or a stream full of leaping salmon. We’d call them a sloth of bears when they were hibernating, sleeping beneath their layer of summer blubber, sprawled out on their backs, snoring like a train yard full of locomotives.
But some collective nouns baffle me. An array of hedgehogs conjures up images of red, yellow, blue, purple, even rainbow-coloured critters waddling through the leaf litter. It’s weird and the camouflage issues barely need mentioning. A bed of eels is just too disgusting to think about - gives me nightmares. A clowder of cats sounds too close to a chowder of cats - and who wants soup made from furry felines? And a gang of turkeys just makes me laugh. Turkeys would have to be the silliest animals alive and I just cannot imagine them organising themselves into any sort of gang, let alone posing any threat to peace and safety.
But perhaps the most astonishing of all is a congregation of crocodiles. What a bizarre term! What a crazy image! Imagine crocodiles sitting side by side in the pews at church, dressed in their Sunday best, clutching hymn books, singing ‘Amazing Grace’ at the top of their lungs.
I’d rather call them a gang of crocodiles - steal it from the turkeys. That seems far more fitting. Picture a dark, narrow alley - graffiti on the walls, damp litter on the ground, power lines sagging dangerously low. A lonely zebra with buck teeth, braces and thick glasses, is walking home from school, hoping and praying to make it through the rough part of town in one piece (I can imagine a congregation of zebras quite easily, by the way). Crocodiles appear from the shadows, step out in front of the zebra. They are all wearing black leather jackets, baseball caps tilted to the side and thick gold chains. Several have pierced nostrils. The gang leader snaps his jaws and says, in a voice low and menacing, ‘Where d’ya think you’re going, Stripes?’ Yes. It should definitely be a gang of crocodiles.
So while I am fiddling with the English language, I might as well try some other newbies. I’d like to introduce these collective nouns and try them for size:
A flubber of frogs
A flit of wrens
A lump of camels
A pest of flies
An intrusion of hippopotamuses (Well it would be if they were to break into your house!)
A stink of goats
A cuddling of puppies
A blabber of bloggers
Any more ideas?