An Exaltation of Larks, by James Lipton, is the culmination of more than two decades of his research of “nouns of multitude,” which he prefers to call “terms of venery.” It is a book I most highly recommend.
Many of these terms are commonplace: plague of locusts, pride of lions, litter of pups. Imagine, though, hearing these expressions for the first time. Lipton invites us to “sharpen our senses by restoring the magic to the mundane.”
Lipton traced a number of these terms back to the 1400s, specifically to THE BOOK OF ST. ALBANS, printed in 1486. In addition to today’s ordinary terms, he discovered some that had a fresh sound, precisely because they had not made the 500-year journey to our modern era.
Lipton identifies six sources of inspiration for the terms. He lists these “Families” with the following examples: 1. Onomatopoeia: a murmuration of starlings, a gaggle of geese. 2. Characteristic (by far the largest Family): a leap of leopards, a skulk of foxes. 3. Appearance: a knot of toads, a parliament of owls. 4. Habitat: a shoal of bass, a nest of rabbits. 5. Comment (pro or con depending on viewpoint): a richness of martens, a cowardice of curs. 6. Error (in transcription or printing; sometimes preserved for centuries): “school” of fish was originally intended to be “shoal.”
Lipton enthusiastically joined the “game” of coining terms, which had been in progress for more than 500 years. In 1968 he published his first EXALTATION OF LARKS, which contained 175 terms — some from Middle English, some original. Neither the hardbound nor the paperback edition went out of print before the Ultimate Edition (with more than 1,000 terms) was published in 1991. As Lipton puts it, textbooks and various media “used the book like sourdough to leaven new batches of terms.”
Lipton believes that a pun or a play on words detracts from the vigor of a term. Alliteration, likewise, is unnecessary. Rather the success of the term hinges on identifying the “quintessential part” of the group of people or things and allowing it to represent the whole: a blur of impressionists, a brood of hens, a quiver of arrows. (Lipton’s research on this last item revealed that as early as 1300 a poetic soul rejected the available words “case” and “scabbard” and turned “quiver” into a noun.)
Therefore, I have opened THE TERMS OF VENERY in this blog. Every month I will add a group of terms from the book. You are invited to share your own discovered and/or original TERMS OF VENERY with all of us.
All terms are taken directly from the book. BUY IT for yourself! It is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook.
ALSO CHECK OUT UNISONARTS.WORDPRESS.COM for a totally hysterically funny look at Venery. I don’t usually recommend blogs – but this one is brilliant!
»July, 2012: A SCHOOL OF FISH, A NEST OF VIPERS, A CLOUD OF GRASSHOPPERS,
»August, 2012: A PRIDE OF LIONS, A BENCH OF JUDGES, A BEVY OF BEAUTIES
»September, 2012: A FIELD OF RACEHORSES, A HAIL OF GUNFIRE, A CHORUS OF COMPLAINTS
»October, 2012: A CATCH OF FISH, A PACK OF DOGS, A LITTER OF PUPS, A MONTH OF SUNDAYS, A MOUNTAIN OF DEBT, A HILL OF BEANS, A DOSE OF SALTS