Word Smith: Murder
What do you call a collection of animals which are gathered together with their own species? Of course that depends completely on the species. Some of the most interesting collective nouns in the English language have been carefully selected to describe what the animals look like when congregating. We have lots of flocks and pods and herds, but the etymologists have worked overtime picking unique collective nouns, many of which have worked their way into our vocabulary. The words are selected with sensitivity, alliteration, and humor. Many of the nouns describe the sounds the animals make, while others speak to their shape en-masse and cluster patterns while seeking food or protection.
Many of the collective nouns are one syllable, Saxon words with raw feeling and deep meanings. Others are multi-syllabic Latinate words, which are full of sound and fury. My favorite collective nouns are for birds, including some of the lesser known ones:
Single Syllable Collective Nouns Multiple Syllable Collective Nouns
Siege of bitterns Exaltation of larks
Wake of buzzards Covert of coots
Skein of ducks (in flight) Kettle of hawks
Raft of ducks (on water) Parliament of owls
Fling of dunlin Richness of martens
Mob of emus Pandemonium of parrots
Charm of finches Descent of woodpeckers
Rasp of guineafowl Unkindness of ravens
Scold of jays Covey of quails
Gulp of swallows Murder of crows
The Ravens have it pretty tough, as far as collective nouns go. Even with the makeover mascots for the Baltimore’s Super Bowl Champions, (Edgar, Allen and Poe), the Ravens are treated shabbily, especially by the other teams.
Being called an UNKINDNESS is hardly flattering; however, having witnessed some frightful behavior of the ravens, when they congregate and terrorize smaller birds and animals around them, it is a fitting description. They are birds with no mercy.
An even less-flattering collective noun description has been applied to the Crow, which is a smaller cousin of the Raven. The crowd of crows is called a MURDER. Crows are about 25% smaller than ravens, but they are equally fierce, when they swarm by the hundreds in trees during their nightly council meeting and subsequent migrations. Alfred Hitchcock had a murder of crows in mind when he make his famous movie, The Birds.
Even Agatha Christie, the murder mystery queen, when riding on the Orient Express would have had a hard time with the MURDER collective noun label if it were applied to her family. How would you like to be with Great Aunt Agatha and her “Murder of Christies?”
Two coincidental reasons why I was motivated to write about a MURDER of CROWS revealed itself after I returned to Portland, Oregon from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was attending the second rendezvous of the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions. While in Albuquerque I found a Kachina doll at Palms Trading Post that I felt was appropriate to buy, called the Crow Mother.
During the same trip, I also visited the Acoma Pueblo of Sky City and I bought an unusual ceramic pot. The pottery at one house looked like stone with unusual various squiggly lines and stick figures etched across the surface. The potter, Irvin Louis, said that he was a member of the Crow Clan at Acoma and that the lines come from horse hair that he placed on the surface of the pot before firing in the kiln. Since the “N” in kiln is often silent, it was pretty spooky when I considered that murder is another word for kill. The Kachina and ceramic pot proved to be some interesting Crow serendipity in my way of thinking.
Enjoy exploring the collective nouns for the animals in your neighborhood. Do some of your own research and have fun selecting the ones you like best. They make for great alliterative reading about the flock of feathered friends for your favorite fowl.
For a full list of the collective nouns, there are lots of websites to review. Below are two: