Contrivance of collectives creates tangle of webs | The Latte Guy | July 30

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.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates