Driving to town with D&L yesterday, L saw some ravens and popped up with the general question, out of the blue, “What do you call a group of ravens? I know it’s not a flock.”
This is one I actually knew. I piped up with “An Unpleasantness.”
She looked back at me, rather annoyed. “Seriously.”
“No, seriously. It’s a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, and an unpleasantness of ravens. I particularly enjoy that there’s an exultation of larks, just because there ought to be. There’s a bunch more of them I don’t remember. Dunno who came up with that, some English taxonomist with a sense of humor or something. But it’s true.”
And that’s the sort of thing I’ll wake up in the morning worrying over: Where did that notion of funny names for groups of things come from? This is probably how Wikipedia was born.
This is a list of English terms of venery (venery being an archaic word for hunting), comprising terms from a tradition that arose in the Late Middle Ages, at least partly from the Book of Saint Albans of 1486. The list also includes more common collective terms (such as herd and flock) for some animals.
I would have guessed it was more modern than that, but you know the English. If it doesn’t date back to the Viking raids, it’s not yet to be fully trusted.