Wednesday, November 24, 2021

SearchResearch Challenge (11/24/21): What's that group of animals called?


You know that a bunch of crows is... 

From (free images!) 

... often called a murder of crows.  

Likewise, you might have heard of a charm of hummingbirds, a stand of flamingos, a cloud of bats, etc.  

The question that always irks me in the back of my brain is this:  Are these REALLY the terms that we should use for aggregations of such animals?  Or are they just made up by a clever copywriter somewhere?  

Such questions the enquiring mind wants to know!  So, today, a fairly straightforward couple of questions that will open your mind to running down the true origins of words.

1. What are these kinds of terms called?  (That is, what do you call words that denote a specific name for a group of a particular kind of animal, such as as "pack" of wolves.)  What's THAT called?  (Once you know this term, perhaps it will be simpler to figure this out... 

2.  Where did the term "murder" as a term for a group of crows begin?  (Mind you, just linking to a random website isn't going to cut it in SRS-land.  You need to have a highly credible source, which means you need to think about what counts as "credible" for etymological sources. It's an interesting question.. what does count?)  

3. What about a "Charm" of hummingbirds? 

4. And what about a "Mess" of iguanas? (Is that term for real?  Or did someone just make it up for fun?)  

5. And lastly, what do you call a bunch of kangaroos?  How old is THAT term? 

And (on the eve of US Thanksgiving), remember to give thanks for everything--and in particular, for these lovely language bits that amuse and keep us smiling throughout the year.  

Be sure to let us know HOW you found out the answers to this Challenge.  We want to learn what brilliant search things you did!  

Search on, linguistically!  Happy Thanksgiving!  


  1. Good morning Dr Russell. Happy Thanksgiving Day!

    I'll start Searching in a few minutes. And, I wanted to say thank you for one more year of SRS Challenges

    1. Some of my queries are:

      [how group of animals called]

      Answers show different names and animals and species

      [why wolves group called pack]

      [A murder of crows history]


      Another version comes from And says: ""murder" is a poetic term used in literature that originated in England in the 15th century'

      Scientific calls them a flock of Crows


      With [" mess" of iguanas] found that yes, the collective noun name for them is mess of iguanas

      Hummingbirds [what is a group of hummingbirds called]

      The name, apparently, comes because they look charming. Even when they are not so "social." I have seen maximum 4 playing at same time together

      Names of Hummingbirds

    2. With [first collective noun animals]

      A Drudge of Lexicographers Presents: Collective Nouns

      The Absurd Truth Behind Collective Animal Nouns (ngram mentioned too in the article)

    3. Drudge as a noun… I see what you did there… I've been "drudged" - verbal-ized

    4. …ooooops, I thought you were referencing "Matt, the news linker", not "Samuel", the Lexicographer
      Dr. Sam
      harmless here

    5. I found that “terms of venery” gave better results.

    6. Mathlady -- How did you find that term? ("venery") Always curious how people learn specific terms.

    7. I first came upon “venery” in my go-to etymological source, Merriam-Webster. It seems to be a common term; I also encountered it in howstuffworks and

      There seems to be a school of fish – I mean thought – which distinguishes between the hunting terms and scientific ones. According to Nicholas Lund of the Audubon Society (same source jon cited):

      “So it’s clear that scientists do not use terms of venery. These things exist in a world of their own, where bar trivia is king.

      The earliest known collection of terms of venery (an archaic term for 'hunting') is in the Book of Saint Albans, a kind of handbook on manliness first published in 1486.

      But ‘murder of crows,’ and the like—the ones that people giggle over despite no actual instance of anyone using the term to refer to a flock of crows maybe ever in history—those need to go.

      Accuracy is part of the reason. Bandwidth is another. Why use our limited brain space on fake animal facts when there are so many interesting things that are actually true?

      The next time someone gives me a wink and a nudge and says, ‘Did you know a group of owls is called a “parliament”?’ I’m going to respond, ‘Did you know anyone who believes that is part of a “gaggle of gullibles”?’”

    8. maybe it should be a tower of ravens to go with the murder of crows… the English & english…
      and of course, Poppy…
      "The Ravenmaster Chris Skaife is a Yeoman Warder or ‘Beefeater’ dedicated to caring for the Tower’s unique Unkindness of Ravens."
      a recipe
      from the gaggles
      bureaucratic evolution

    9. a giggle of googlers… a 'tern' of phrase

    10. An asylum of cuckoos – how very clever! It is sounding more like Nicholas Lund said “…is there just one nerd in an office somewhere with a field guide in one hand and a dictionary in the other, matching each species with a cute little term and laughing maniacally when the world collectively coos over the pairing?”

    11. …my bandwidth is knackered…
      loons… maniacally
      Wetting the Cuckoo or drunk in the woods…
      "Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
      Apple seed and apple thorn;
      Wire, briar, limber lock,
      Three geese in a flock.
      One flew east,
      And one flew west,
      And one flew over the cuckoo's nest."

      from McMurphy…
      Evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen
      field - guys

    12. This week reading found out about how words (and concepts) basil, Chapel and heart became as we know it. Very interesting. In that same book, found out that JRR Tolkien was also a lexicographer!

    13. From the duolingo forum: What do you call two crows standing together and a third some way off looking kind of awkward?

      An attempted murder.

  2. "Adult male turkeys are called toms, and females are called hens. Very young birds are poults, while juvenile males are jakes, and juvenile females are jennies. A group of turkeys is called a rafter or a flock."
    sounds like yum
    Tom raft
    (fwiw - I'm NOT a highly credible source… but Happy or Hapless sRs T–Day)

    started and ended with the Roo search - 251 years, for the English — aboriginal peoples?? - know it doesn't cut it, but Meleagris gallopavo called…
    " • The family name Macropodidae derives from macropods, meaning “big or large footed.”
    • The word kangaroo comes from the aboriginal Guugu Yimithirr people’s word for the gray kangaroo (gangurru). The word was first recorded as “Kangooroo or Kanguru” in 1770 by British explorer James Cook."

    a partial list… by type

    250 languages/dialects
    the multi-Roo-Verse
    … grammatical term for a group of animals - A collective noun


  3. I knew these are collective nouns so clicked off to Michael Quinion
    Where his article on this topic is entitled "Precision of Lexicographers" and all is explained.
    Note: he has over 20 years written some 3,000 articles on 'words'. I would rate him as credibility++ having read his weekly effusions nearly this whole time period.

    Online Etymology Dictionary: no mention of murder of crows; nor hummers; nor roos. ditto:

    History: finds Many view the appearance of crows as an omen of death because ravens and crows are scavengers and are generally associated with dead bodies, battlefields, and cemeteries, and they’re thought to circle in large numbers above sites where animals or people are expected to soon die.

    But the term “murder of crows” mostly reflects a time when groupings of many animals had colorful and poetic names. Other fun examples of “group” names include: an ostentation of peacocks, a parliament of owls, a knot frogs, and a skulk of foxes.

    and ... But “murder of crows,” and the like—the ones that people giggle over despite no actual instance of anyone using the term to refer to a flock of crows maybe ever in history—those need to go.

    Accuracy is part of the reason. Bandwidth is another. Why use our limited brain space on fake animal facts when there are so many interesting things that are actually true?

    Charm of Hummingbirds falls under the whimsy of bar trivia Iguana droppings are also a problem. Not only are they unsightly and smelly, they also can carry salmonella. A large population of iguanas in your landscape can cause quite an unsanitary mess.

    bunch of kangaroos: Wikipedia: The name was first recorded as "kanguru" on 12 July 1770 in an entry in the diary of Sir Joseph Banks; this occurred at the site of modern Cooktown, on the banks of the Endeavour River, where HMS Endeavour under the command of Lieutenant James Cook was beached for almost seven weeks to repair damage sustained on the Great Barrier Reef.[14] Cook first referred to kangaroos in his diary entry of 4 August. Guugu Yimithirr is the language of the people of the area.

    A common myth about the kangaroo's English name is that it was a Guugu Yimithirr phrase for "I don't know" or "I don't understand. Disproved long ago

    Kangaroos are often colloquially referred to as "roos".[19] Male kangaroos are called bucks, boomers, jacks, or old men; females are does, flyers, or jills; and the young ones are joeys.[20] The collective noun for a group of kangaroos is a mob, court, or troupe. San Diego Zoo and Sydenham, S; Thomas, R. "Kangaroos

    How about a stuffing of turkies?

  4. I am spending some time (virtually) with a marine biologist who this morning referred to “a pod of whales”. So, I decided, this “term of venery” must be more scientifically accepted than, say, a mess of iguanas.

    I started with [origin of the phrase "pod of whales" ] and found

    which contained “I assume that the reason that school of whales is being replaced by pod of whales is that nowadays people are more aware of the fact that whales are not fish, and this wording emphasizes it. But an interesting questions remain: what is the origin of pod as a collective noun for dolphins and whales? The earliest usage I find in Google books is from 1836. In this reference, a pod of whales is a smaller subgroup within a school of whales.”

    I found the book: A Voyage to the Pacific Descriptive of the Customs, Usages, and Sufferings on Board of Nantucket Whale-ships By William Comstock :

    p. 35: “A school of spermwhales three miles off the lee bow.”
    p. 39: “And now the captain is in full chase of the school, when, perceiving a pod of whales in the rear of the school …”

    The previous site also references an 1837 book, which I was also able to find on google books: THE Mirror OF LITERATURE, AMUSEMENT, AND INSTRUCTION. No author is stated, it appears to be a collection of works.

    Where I found on page 224: “Spermaceti Whales are gregarious, and are met with in what are called schools, or pods. The former consist of from twenty to fifty, being principally females with their young, guarded in the rear by a male of the largest size, who takes up a defensive position, and, when pursued by boats, urges the others to move quicker, by attacking them. A pod consists of eight or ten, generally young ones.”

    I don’t think that distinction still holds. Both Merriam-Webster and define pod as a small group of a type of aquatic mammal.

    With the pandemic, we now have learning pods of small humans.

  5. first read it as 'whale PEDS', but that is mostly a Vegas, Macau, San Jose (CR) thing…
    whale, whale, whale… maybe if there was a "pilot" program
    but I spout on…
    it's the internet – there had to be a cat…
    an "attempted murder" made me guffaw.

  6. two penguins and and a whale walk into a bar…

    and the bartender says, 'Waddle it be, boys? but we don't serve no mobys
    and then they read poetry…

    Rockwell Kent
    Barry Moser
    And the Sea Stopped Raging

    From the midst of the nether
    world I cried for help.
    —from the Book of Jonah

    A gray whale blows off Cardiff Beach,
    just beyond the glamour homes,
    boutiques, and drive-thru windows,
    valet service and all-u-can-eat sushi.
    I want to swim out and be swallowed.

    Jonah’s whale wasn’t Ahab’s, all
    tripey white and peg-toothed, but
    a strainer of phosphorescent shrimp,
    which lamped the reeking gut, like
    fireflies we swallowed once, in jars.


    avian riddle

  7. crows & ravens… a murder of Crows to be a "poetic term" - "Murders in the Rue Morgue" a well-known short story by Edgar Allan Poe.
    "Traditionally, Hugin symbolizes the thought while Munin represents a memory. However, we have good reason to believe that Munin is derived from munr rather than minni (memory)."
    2nd SERP
    found here:
    nice images & 18th century Icelandic manuscript

    the Odin connection
    fwiw — A glittering