The Effective Author: Fun With Collective Nouns

The Effective Author: Fun With Collective Nouns

© 2017 Kebba Buckley Button, MS, OM. World Rights Reserved.

Most authors do their best to use spelling, words, and grammar correctly. And most authors are well aware that language evolves over time. In fact, if we look at the English language alone, we see that spellings and usage have changed greatly over the last 600 years. Urban slang has evolved in the last half-century, to the point that American English spoken by some is completely incomprehensible to others. Yo, ‘sup! Knowhaddameen, homie? Peace out!

Many of us appreciate clear writing that assists us in reading and receiving a writer’s message easily and directly. When there is a choice, I want to streamline my language to use the clearest possible voice. Along this line, I find myself annoyed by arcane usage mandates that Someone created Back in the Day. You’ve heard of “a murder of crows”? How does that convey more than “a flock of crows” would? Birds fly, and they have flocks. I’m done. But no, Someone, Sometime, Back in the Day, said the only proper way to refer to a lot of crows is to call them “a murder of crows.” And there are many other collective nouns people made up and expect us all to use.

collective nouns list.jpg

And because I read a lot, I now know who that someone was! The culprit of this kind of conversational complication is a British woman – yes, a woman – named Dame Juliana Berners (1388-?). Dame Juliana authored a book, The Boke of Saint Albans, which was considered a gentleman’s handbook of important matters. Very popular in its day, the 1486 book covered “Hawking, Hunting, and Cote Armour” – in other words, everything you would want to know, to hunt, or to chat about coats of arms. The book was updated by William Blades (1824-1890) and published again in 1881. In mid-book, page 112, there begins a luscious list, three pages in length, telling readers exactly what to call a group of creatures. Page 112 is reproduced above.

Some of my favorite collective nouns are: shrewdness of apes, sedge or sege of bitterns, herd of cranes, dole or dule of doves, busyness of ferrets (later “business”), flight of goshawks, cast or lease of hawks, sedge or sege of herons, deceit or desert of lapwings, exaltation of larks, tiding of magpies, watch of nightingales, congregation of plovers, bevy of quail, unkindness of ravens, building of rooks, host of sparrows, murmuration of starlings, spring of teal, dole or dule of turtle doves, fall of woodcocks, and herd of wrens.

Whew! Now you can show your audience that you’re up on the popular language of the 1400s! Will this help you be The Effective Author? Possibly not. But it’s fun, and every author needs some fun. Happy writing!

Kebba Buckley Button is a stress management expert and author of the award-winning Kebba booksbook, Discover the Secret Energized You, as well as the 2013 book, Peace Within: Your Peaceful Inner Core, Second Edition
. Her newest book, Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, is available through her office. Just email for more info. Like this article? Buy Kebba’s books by clicking the links! Reach the writer at For an appointment or to ask Kebba to speak for your group:

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