Contrivance of collectives creates tangle of webs | The Latte Guy | July 30
July 30, 2010 · 11:48 AM
I am not a collector of things. I’m more of a tosser-outer of things. I may be one of the few guys in the world who can’t claim that my mom sold my complete set of priceless Topp’s baseball cards at a garage sale for two dollars. I do not collect coins, stamps, cars, magazines, art, fine wines, classic rock albums, World War II memorabilia, sports collectibles or insects.
I would say that I am totally unencumbered by any collective instinct, except that it wouldn’t be entirely true. It turns out I do collect something. I collect collectives.
By collectives I mean collective nouns, of course. A collective noun is a term by which one refers to a group of similar objects. The most common variety of collective nouns relate to animals. For example, we speak of a pride of lions, a pod of whales, a swarm of ants, a flock of birds, or a brood of chickens.
There are as many collectives as there are kinds of animals. Generally speaking, the more interesting the animal, the more interesting the collective: an exaltation of larks, a conspiracy of ravens, a lounge of lizards, a tiding of magpies, a convocation of eagles, a parliament of owls, a muster of peacocks, a charm of finches.
Some collectives evoke strong historical associations: a drove of cattle, a rake of mules, a string of ponies.
Other collectives capture the essence of the thing they are describing: a plague of rats, a nuisance of cats, a bed of clams, a gaggle of geese, a cackle of hyenas, a continent of leviathans.
While animal collectives are the most common class of collectives, they are by no means the only class. I did a little exploring on the Internet and came up with collectives for virtually every category of thing I could think of, plus a few that I couldn’t have thought of or didn’t know existed.
I particularly like: an abandonment of orphans, an absence of waiters, an accompaniment of condiments, an attitude of teenagers, an audit of bookkeepers, and an autumn of leaves. How does a brace of orthodontists grab you?
If you are over 50 and have had a recent colonoscopy, then perhaps you can appreciate a clench of sphincters. Politics has its share of collectives: a compromise of senators, a ream of bureaucrats, a run of cowards.
My computer runs on a crash of software. The Titanic ran into a drift of icebergs. I’d like to attend a debauchery of heathens so I could experience a guilt of pleasures. If you go to church regularly, you’ve probably witnessed a fidget of altar boys, as well as a harmony of singers. If your priest was Jim Phinney (lucky you), then you will have suffered through a groan of puns while you were contemplating a pinhead of angels.
And speaking of puns, is there such a thing as a shortage of dwarves? How about a clutch of auto mechanics? An expectation of midwives? A horde of misers?
We’ve all been in the company of an exaggeration of fishermen. Bainbridge certainly enjoys a rhyme of poets as well as a keyboard of writers.
The supernatural and spiritual worlds lend themselves to particularly interesting collectives. We’ve all heard of a coven of witches and a fellowship of wizards, but what about a baleful of martyrs, a rapture of messiahs, or a persuasion of prophets?
We’re all familiar with the concept of a legion of demons and a communion of saints, but what about a penumbra of spirits, a shroud of ghouls, a torment of ogres, or a malevolence of trolls? It sounds like it would be fun to run into a gossip of mermaids or a host of cherubim, but not necessarily a vexation of zombies. There’s even a collective noun for God – an itself of Yahwehs. Think about it.
You don’t really need to collect collectives, you can just make them up yourself: a flop of soccer players, a cacophony of vuvuzelas, a fleece of islanders, a thong of swimsuits, a rash of berry pickers, an embarrassment of Mariners, a netflick of films, a commute of ferry riders, a foam of lattes.
Now that I’ve added this to my cluster of columns, I think I’ll step outside and take in a wonder of stars.
Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.