Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sunday Book Review, September 25, 2011: An Exaltation of Larks

A slouch of models
A bask of crocodiles
A tower of giraffes
An erudition of editors
A maze of bureaucrats
An unemployment of graduates
A scold of seamstresses
A number of statisticians
A walk of snipe

These are less than one hundredth of the old and new collective terms collected in James Lipton's "An Exaltation of Larks." 

Madame L has had great fun skimming through this book's "Ultimate Edition" of 1991. (It was first published in 1968 and revised in 1977.) She hasn't even tried to read through the whole thing. The first chapter, titled "The Beginning," is downright intimidating in its erudition. (An erudition of editors would have swooned at the reams of papers and bibliographies of books the author has read, and the realms of knowledge he has explored, to compile these expressions.)

Madame L, neither being erudite nor having the patience nor the scholarly nature to read through the history of each expression, has flipped through randomly just for the fun of finding the occasional wonderful "noun of multitude."

One of the oldest is "a pride of lions" (from The Book of St. Albans (1486). One of the newer ones, from a list including "a membership of Presbyterians" and "a mass of priests," is "a book of Mormons." Ha ha.

The index helpfully lists the ending of every collective expression so Madame L, or any other lazy reader, can find the appropriate word for the start of the expression. 

So, for example, Madame L wanted to find what a crowd of Egyptologists might be called, so she looked up "Egyptologist" and found that they've been called "a pyramid of Egyptologists." On that same page, she found the terms "a shower of meteorologists," "a stratum of geologists," "a web of arachnologists," "a nucleus of physicists," and so on. 

But although Madame L knew that a group of bees was a swarm, and confirmed that by looking up "bees," when she tried to find what crowd of people or objects "a swoon" would be associated with, there was no helpful index for that. 

Madame L invites her Dear Readers to join her in inventing new collective expressions. What group, for instance, do you think "a swoon" would refer to? Or "a desert"? Or "a blanket"? Or "an anything"?

Madame L thinks you'll enjoy this book as much as she is enjoying it, especially if you read it this way. It's available new at for $11.44 and used from $2.97. ("An enjoyment"?) 

1 comment:

AskTheGeologist said...

How about a Pile of blankets?
A Swoon of drunken undergraduates?
A Stratonuclear of geophysicists?
A Steaming of bear poop?
A Glimmer of astrophysicists?
A Lake of limnologists?
A Puddle of hydrologists?

What have you started?!??