We are surrounded by a world full of strange and wonderful animals. To describe these fascinating beasts, our language has adopted equally interesting ways. One of the more interesting ways in which we employ language is to describe groups of similar things. In English, we use collective nouns to do this.
You might have heard of expressions like a herd of cows, a pride of lions and a school of fish. But have you ever wondered what a group of butterflies is called? Is it a swarm of butterflies, or is that just for bees and other insects that go “bzzz”? Perhaps a flutter of butterflies. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But wait, wouldn’t it make more sense if the insect was called a ‘flutter-by’ and not a butterfly?
Find answers to all these amusing questions and more in this curious list of collective nouns for animals!
A Charge of Rhinoceroses
A group of rhinoceroses is called a charge. It’s only fitting considering the fact that rhinos are famous for charging at unfamiliar things. Rhinos have weak eyesight and rely on their sense of smell and hearing to detect intruders. They tend to charge ferociously at any foreign presence, but sometimes this could also just be an unfamiliar rock or a tree!
So what would you say if you saw a charge of rhinos charging at you?
A Cackle of Hyenas
A group of hyenas is called a cackle. The Spotted Hyena, also commonly called the laughing hyena, is notorious for making sounds that resemble human laughter. But they are not actually laughing. The hyena’s fascinating laughter is actually a mixture of complicated vocalisations, including yelps, cackles, grunts and whines that they used to communicate with each other.
A Parliament of Owls
Have you heard of the simile, “as wise as an owl”? If you have, you will be amused to know that the collective noun for a group of owls is a ‘parliament’. The Owl has been associated with wisdom for thousands of years now. It was the symbol of the goddess Athena in Greek mythology. In Hindu myth, it is the ‘vahana’ (or vehicle) of the goddess Lakshmi.
A Murder of Crows
Crows are often associated with dark omens. In many cultures, they are seen as messengers of death. Perhaps that’s where the expression ‘a murder of crows’ comes from. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the usage of the word has been around since the 15th century. Although it is not exactly known why the word murder is used to describe a group of crows, The OED suggests it could be due to “the crow’s traditional association with violent death” or its “harsh and raucous cry.”
A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies
Could there be a more apt collective noun to describe the most colourful insect? A kaleidoscope is a toy made of mirrors that displays a range of colourful, symmetric patterns. Can you imagine being surrounded by so many butterflies that it feels like being inside a kaleidoscope? Well, it can actually be possible. Many species of butterfly fly hundreds of kilometres in large swarms (or should we say kaleidoscopes?) during migration season. This is observed prominently in South India every October-November when butterflies migrate from the Eastern Ghats towards the Western Ghats.
A Shiver of Sharks
A shiver is what runs down your spine when you think of being surrounded by multiple sharks! So it’s only fitting that a group of sharks is called a shiver. There are a few other collective nouns that are also used to describe sharks. You could refer to a ‘frenzy of sharks’ when they are particularly fierce. Meanwhile, the more traditional collective noun for sharks is a ‘shoal’.
A Flamboyance of Flamingos
While the phrase ‘a flock of flamingos’ is perfectly well accepted in the English language, there is a certain sense of sonic satisfaction with the more uncommon usage: “a flamboyance of flamingos”. Indeed, flamboyance is perhaps the best-suited word to describe these strange, vibrantly pink birds that gather by the thousands in huge flocks along the plains of Africa.
A Shrewdness of Apes
The phrase ‘a shrewdness of apes’ has around since the late 15th century. Back then, shrewdness referred to the mischievous nature of apes and was not particularly used as a collective noun. But over time, the phrase has been accepted as a collective knows. It’s quite fitting, considering how intelligent apes are when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom.
Which is your new favourite collective noun for animals? Tell us in the comments below.
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