04 January 2008

Collective Commentaries

One of the odder things about the English language is the panoply of words that act as collective nouns.  Some are still in common use-- a litter of puppies, a range of mountains, a bed of flowers, a class of students, a crowd of people-- and some are just odd enough that some remember them just for their oddness, like a murder of crows.  How some of them came to be, or how they're ever used, is curious and often fun stuff; sometimes, however, they're just outright funny, especially when they've obviously been adapted to contemporary purposes.  Here are a few samples from academic contexts:

  • A group of academics is called a faculty; 
  • A group of Assistant Professors is a clamber;
  • A group of Associate Professors is a tenure;
  • A group of Full Professors is an entropy or an entrenchment.

You have to adore the progression.  Some other related collectives:  a oversight of deans; an essence of existentialists; a lack of principals (savour the irony); a brood of researchers;  a drowse of underachievers; a leap of overachievers; and, of course, there's a nullity of nihilists (say that ten times fast).  Even the student year-levels have their own collectives:  a plenitude of freshmen, a platitude of sophomores, a gratitude of juniors and an attitude of seniors; better yet, there are also fortitudes of graduate students and doggednesses of doctoral candidates all working on their angsts of dissertations.  Lovely when language offers its implicit commentaries, non?  Frankly, I think a group of doctoral candidates should be a delay or an insecurity; even a poverty would do.

Some other choice examples, even though surely the catch of collective nouns is language at its most sly:

  • an ingratitude of children
  • a rash of dermatologists
  • a guess of diagnosticians
  • a gross of farts
  • a conjunction of grammarians
  • a smear of gynecologists
  • a thicket of idiots
  • a spread of nymphomaniacs
  • a tenet of palindromes (clever indeed)
  • a babel (or a babble) of words

Many of these were surely invented only recently, of course, but one has to admire the elegance of them.  You can read amusedly through some sites through the link above.  Reminds me, though, that I'll have to pick up James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks (yes, that James Lipton), which seems to have been the source for many of the above.  Makes me wonder what a group of partial-load professors would be.  A posse?  A parade?  A temper?

2 comments:

Zelda said...

I think I realized why I feel so pissed off all the time. I've been sober for all of 2008.

i hope to break the trend tonight.

Roger said...

A frustration of contractuals?
A sweat of coolies?
A fury of graders?