By Bob Huber: Local columnist
Here at the Homeless Language Shelter we’re keeping a wary eye on the annual March for Animals in Washington, D.C. We’re not sure what animals they’re marching for, but human beings, mostly news reporters, get all tangled up when they try to describe the event. Here’s the problem:
Reporters generally have limited knowledge of specific terms for groups of animals. Lord knows, they’ve got enough to remember what with e-mail porn addresses and White House phone spying. They’ve always known about prides of lions and gaggles of geese, but for most animals they rely on the term “bunch,” or sometimes “a mess of.”
So I looked up “animals” in my Reverse Dictionary, which is the only good reading since Louis L’Amour died, and there I found that a gathering of apes is called a “shrewdness.” Can’t you just hear this cry in the jungle? “Run faster, Jane! A shrewdness of apes led by a naked man is chasing us!”
Some other terms for groups are:
n A “mob” of kangaroos. “A mob of kangaroos is on a panty raid over at Crocodile State.”
n A “destruction” of wildcats, a “business” of ferrets, a “skulk” of foxes, and a “leap” of leopards. “Lordy, Lenore, stop lollygagging around that leap of leopards.”
n Tigers, meanwhile, gather in “ambushes,” while more than one rhinoceros is a “crash.”
n If a “cete” of badgers comes marching along, followed by a “sounder” of wild boars, reporters should stay clear.
I don’t know who named these groups, nor could I locate certain remote animal groups in the Reverse Dictionary, so I made some up. For instance, how about a “whiff” of skunks, or a “slither” of snakes, or a “politics” of college professors?
I didn’t find polecats in the book either, even though a polecat really isn’t a skunk. You see, skunks gather in “chines,” and the male is a hob, the female a jill, and the younguns kits. We don’t really know about polecats, but I’d hate to meet up with a mess of them in a dark alley.
Describing domestic animals is easier. There are “sounders” of pigs, “farrows” of shoats, “buries” of rabbits, “hurtles” of sheep, “yokes” of cows, “harasses” of horses, and “labors” of moles. If you like to garden, you know moles can be very domestic.
And lions gather not only in “prides” but in “saults” or “troops,” depending on what they’re doing. And in addition to “clusters” of other cats, there are “glarings” and “douts,” which I don’t doubt at all.
Geese, by the way, gather only in “gaggles” on the ground. In the air, they’re “skeins” or a mess, depending on where you parked your car in Lubbock.
Pigeons, I found out, “flock” at courthouses, while the book said sparrows gather in “quarrels.” Eagles gather in “convocations,” while hummingbirds meet in “charms.” Starlings gather in “murmurations.”
And there are “musterings” of storks, “unkindnesses” of ravens, “sieges” of herons, and “murders” of crows. “Get out from under that apple tree, Essie. There’s a murder of crows up there.”
For bird hunters there are “prettyings” of doves, “rafts” of coots, “whispers” of snipes, “puddlings” of mallards, and “raffles” of turkeys — hence the term “turkey raffle.”
Incidentally, if politicians join the March for Animals, as they are prone to do in election years, you might want to label them a “mess” of turkeys.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.