First Birthday

The idea for was planted by a greetings card. It listed the collective nouns for animals in beautiful typography. Some of them I had heard, others were completely new to me. I was captivated.

I went through several stages of appreciation with this card. It was beautifully typeset, so my first impression was that it was a very pretty thing. Then I recognised a couple of familiar collective nouns, and realised the purpose of the list. There were many examples, so it became something of a blur as I scanned it. Sometimes I would see an animal or a word which I didn’t recognise. Other times, my eyes would alight on a particularily fine example. “A murmuration of starlings” perhaps. Or “an unkindness of ravens”. Really? That’s brilliant!

Eventually the list runs out. Then an idea might occur: ‘but what is the collective noun for butterflies?’, say. Realising that there is an omission in the list, I take it upon myself to invent a collective noun for butterflies. As I notice more and more omissions in the list, I am spurred to invent more and more collective nouns. I share them with a friend, and before long they’ve joined in. It’s positively addictive!

Around this time, writing Twitter apps was all the rage, and I was looking for an excuse to join the fray. It occured to me that Twitter could be used for fielding submissions for novel collective nouns. The convention of ReTweeting could be used to promote popular ideas which could battle it out on the leaderboard.

I built to pass the time on the train. I was working in Glasgow at the time, commuting daily from Edinburgh. There and back, I had 45 minutes of quality time with the laptop.

After about 6 weeks I was ready to launch. I explained the rules, then kicked off with the first seed:

A suicide of snowmen

I had told a few of my friends what I was working on, so they were expecting the announcement. Within minutes, we had a fistful of dollars, a sky of clouds and a lack of principles. It was not long before people started joining from outwith my own network. That was a great thrill for me.

When I started, I thought that the #collectivenouns hashtag was too long. I decided instead to use the #allsorts hashtag. To my amazement and delight, the hashtag was trending by lunchtime that day. I have to pinch myself when I say that, because I don’t think that would be possible today with so many people pushing their agenda on Twitter.

The #allsorts hashtag continued to be used for several days, until Robheeney tweeted:

Fuck swine flu. Let’s make up some collective nouns. #collectivenouns For example …. a blase of pigeons

I don’t know whether he had seen the #allsorts tag in use, or whether he had the idea independantly, but it took off! I became aware of his tweet within an hour, and already there were some nine or ten pages of search results for the #collectivenouns hashtag.

My initial reaction was to request that Robheeney encourage his followers to use the allsorts tag instead of #collectivenouns, which he duly did, but it was too late. The horse had bolted. I realised that #collectivenouns was much more descriptive than #allsorts, and the fact it had already gone viral meant that was not too long for a hashtag. So I quickly updated the All-Sorts parser so that it would search for both terms: #allsorts and #collectivenouns.

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