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Do any of you use Twitter? [pause] If you feel inspired during this talk, please feel free to coin your own venereal terms by tweeting something like "a bunch of somethings" with the #collectivenouns hashtag. You'll find out why presently.
From Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, we get the Latin root *ven*, which means "to desire (and therefore) to pursue". It is in this sense that the word "venery", and its adjectival form "venereal" came to signify the hunt.
Head huntsman to the King, the Knight of Duplin instructs his squire:
'Tis sooth that for every collection of beasts of the forest, and for every gathering of birds of the air, there is their own private name so that none may be confused with another.
These 'Terms of venery', or collective nouns as we commonly call them today, formed part of a gentleman's education. Knowing the proper term for a group of animals showed that you belonged to the elite. Getting it wrong could betray your ignorance.
Hark ye! Only last week that jack-fool, the young Lord of Brocas, was here talking of having seen a *covey* of pheasants in the wood. One such speech would have been the ruin of a young squire at the court.
Opined Sir John Butesthorn.
Traditional examples such as an exaltation of larks, a cowardice of curs and a shrewdness of apes all appear in the Book of St Albans, printed in the year 1486. This gives them a weight of authority. A sense of correctness. But even these ancient examples had to be invented at some time.
There is so much imagination, wit and semantic ingenuity in these collective terms. It is clear that they are the result of a game. A game that amateur philologists have been playing for well over 500 years.
Although it no longer forms such an important part of our education, to ignore this rich vein of creativity in our language is to miss out. Should you see a group of ravens flying past, and wish to comment on it, say "Ah look, an unkindness of ravens". Anything else would be wrong.
To quote again our wise Knight:
Have care in the use of the terms of the craft, lest you should make some blunder at table, so that those who are wiser may have the laugh of you, and we who love you may be shamed.
But what of this modern world? There is no mention in the Book of St Albans of parking wardens. [If you have an idea how they should be referred to, please tweet it with the #collectivenouns tag. I rather like to refer to parking wardens collectively as a *clunt*.]
There are many examples of things in the modern world that deserve their own terms of venery: robots, film makers, geeks, goths, hipsters, baristas, fashion models, web designers, used car salesmen
What's this? A seemingly empty room... of... ninjas. Why not?! We could have a suicide of snowmen, a numerous multitude of tautologies, a nutsack of douchebags...
Or a Deutschbag of Nazis! A shortage of dwarves; a mucking fuddle of spoonerisms, a knot of string theorists, a whorde of prostitutes, a coming together of porn stars
Or a malestrom of male models. These examples were sourced from All-Sorts.org, a website that invites you to submit your own suggestions for novel collective nouns by tweeting them with the #collectivenouns hashtag. This brings the game of venereal invention into the 21st century.
If you see an idea that you like, you can ReTweet it and All-Sorts.org will count it as a vote. The best ideas bubble up to the top of the leader board for all to see. Since it launched last year, the site has processed over 8000 submissions. These are some of the favourites.
Inspired by these, The West Port Book Festival has instigated a collective project which will result in an exhibition of collective nouns at the Owl & Lion Gallery. Back in March, we put out a call for open submissions from artists and illustrators.
The best submissions will feature in a limited edition artists' book and also in an exhibition that will run in June at the Owl & Lion Gallery, to coincide with this year's West Port Book Festival. The illustrations will be screen printed by Isabelle Ting.
This is a submission by local illustrator Simon Madine. It will be one of the many original pieces on display at the upcoming exhibition. If you would like to take one home with you, then you can purchase a limited edition print at a reasonable price.
Next time you find yourself using a common collective term, such as bunch, flock or gaggle, stop and think for a moment. Is there a proper term that you should have used. No? Well so much the better. Don't miss out on such an opportunity to exercise your wit by coining something new.
If we use them often enough, freshly minted words can make their way into the dictionaries. We only need to make a habit of using these novel collective nouns for them to be venerated themselves as terms of venery.