7 April 2008
I love words. Words get me hot. If I was in prison with words I'd let them make me their bitch. But there's more to words than just crazy monkey prison sex in the shower block. Words have power, and some of the most powerful words are collective nouns.
Collective nouns describe groups of objects or animals or people, and range from the poetic to the downright stupid. Common ones are: a flock of birds, a clutch of eggs, a murder of crows. Some of my favourites are: a bloat of hippopotami, a buffoonary of orangutangs, a business of ferrets, a cackle of hyenas, a neverthriving of jugglers, an impatience of wives and an ugly of walruses.
As interesting as collective nouns are, I've discovered two major flaws: firstly, they don't really work as an adequate measure of quantity. I mean, just how many nuns are in a superfluity? Or turtledoves in a pitying? Or rhinoceroses in a crash? If only there were some fallback, some ubiquitous uber noun that everyone immediately understood which could be substituted for any of the vague and meaningless ones. The second major flaw is there are hardly any collective nouns to describe the majority of day-to-day objects. The most obvious of these is the very subject of this article: what is the collective noun for collective nouns? A quotilla? An array? An arsenal? A thingy? Often I am confronted with the need to describe a group of everyday items and am completely at a loss.
In these situations, I tend to make something up. My personal favourite de jour is "an anus of politicians". But some are not so easy. For instance, I defy you to think of a suitable collective noun for spatulas (a flip? a lift?) Or dildos (a fuck? a wank?) Or breasts (a jiggle? a suckle?) Or holes (an arse? a cake?) What about a group of gay men? (a stick?) Think about that one, it's really quite clever...
But don't think I'd lead you into the wonderful world of collective nouns and not provide a way out, indeed multiple ways out, a veritable vacation of exits. Now that you've discovered their power it will be tempting to use collective nouns every chance you get. But there will come a time when you'll not be able to think of one and you'll look like a goose, indeed a whole gaggle of geese.
If only there were a default, some ubiquitous uber noun which could be substituted for any of the vague and meaningless ones in a comprehension crisis. Well hold on to your dipthongs, people, because I am about to reveal to you exactly that…
Whenever you get stuck, just fall back to the one collective noun that everyone understands: shitload. A shitload of elephants, a shitload of pies, a shitload of dildos. Everyone immediately knows how many dildoes you're talking about and no one will ever question your intelligence again.