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Terms for collections of animals

In the collective names unkindness of ravens, shrewdness of apes, murder of crows, I cannot find any remote relation to a group. What is usually the reason for such collective names to have originated?

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marked as duplicate by Mitch, Robusto, z7sg Ѫ, Jasper Loy, RegDwigнt Aug 4 '11 at 16:21

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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Related: Terms for collections of animals, A murder of crows –  aedia λ Aug 4 '11 at 15:48
    
Great question -- I've often wondered if this is just fanciful word creation or what. (Here's a large list of animal group names: thealmightyguru.com/Pointless/AnimalGroups.html) –  Andrew Flanagan Aug 4 '11 at 15:55
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This has been answered before, as @aedia notes. The reason such arcane terms were used is attributed to the desire of the aristocracy, who had the means and the leisure to pursue venery (hunting), to distinguish their terms for animals from those used by the peasantry. In short, these were born out of snobbery. Their use in most cases today are archaic and unnecessary. –  Robusto Aug 4 '11 at 15:57

1 Answer 1

The collective nouns of English came about in an almost artistic fashion. What I mean is that historically hunters came up with these mass nouns as "terms of venery". The collective part normally does not have any direct etymological link to the word 'group' or its synonyms, but functions the same as other grammatical terms to denote mass nouns.

I highly recommend a read through of James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks, which gives some brief history of mass nouns in English, and dedicates the majority of the book to lists of various terms. Also see Collective Noun for a good description of their use.

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