A Thriggle of Thoughts

Collective terms have always held a peculiar fascination for people – more so (one could say) than the orbit of Pluto, the diet of mountain goats and what exactly constitutes a ‘recession’. More so (furthermore) than the development of the epistolary novel, the origin of the phrase ‘the ungirt loin’ and the contents of the top drawer of my wife’s dressing table. No, as interesting as these things may be, collective terms almost always win out in the end.

A post or so ago, I signed off with the collective term ‘a movement of moles’ (an ending which, for at least one sad day, was subject to an unfortunate mistyping: ‘a movement of moves’). I would be lying to you if I said that this is one of my favourite collective terms. Still, there are certainly worse ones (a ‘dissimulation of birds’ has always struck me as especially weak example. You can find several others at this ‘reliable’ source)

All of which begs a quaggle of questions. Firstly, who is in charge? Collective terms are sometimes considered, like many facets of the English language, to be a set of ‘correct’ words, blessed in marriage to their corresponding nouns by the high priest of invisible (but oh-so-certain) protocol. Woe betide the man who gets one wrong! The hot soup of vengeance will be swiftly spilt all over his lap. You can’t just go around making these things up. It’s a ‘descent of woodpeckers’ or nothing at all. One doesn’t want to irk a pestilence of Oxford professors.

Every now and again, however, one stumbles upon a situation in which there seems to be no cast-iron or ‘correct’ collective term. Whilst there can be two or three terms for any animal, there are often none for human types. How does one refer, for instance, to a group of writers or critics? Is it a ‘cackle’ or a ‘cloth’ of critics? Of course, it need not be alliterative. How about a ‘heave’ or ‘heap’ then? As for writers, I oscillate between ‘wreath’ and ‘pocket’ – perhaps even ‘spasm’.

The most important collective term, however, should be that reserved for my favourite breed of human beings: obscure European writers. What dost thou think? An ‘oakery’ of obscure European writers? An ‘encumbrance’? A ‘scombroid’?

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4 thoughts on “A Thriggle of Thoughts

  1. a response here pushes to the front of the class the following terms: ‘a worship of writers’ and ‘a shrivel of critics’.
    A certain Mr Lipton, it transpires, has filled a book full of these wondrous nouns (containing both ‘resurrected and newly minted’ types)

  2. “A bunch of obscure European writers” is the correct phrase, though Harold Saxon-Goethenburg of the University of Leipzig considered “a gaggle of obscure European writers” to be more desirous. Saxon-Goethenburg’s unwavering conviction on this point was to seriously hamper his further ascendence within the stairways of the hallowed halls of acadaemia; an intellectual progress which few acquainted with the depth and scope of this thought could believe undeserved, except of course in this case his learned authoritarian “betters.”

  3. S-G (as he is known to his acquaintances and, occasionally, mother) was right to stand up for his rights – even with a dodgy hip. ‘Bunch’ is a decidely weak term, except in its allusion to bananas, with which some European writers may have a thing or two in common. ‘Gaggle’ doesn’t sound all that better, but I like the image that comes to mind: a field of dishelleved geese, tired of flying, poking their beaks into the damp ground and poo-ing incessantly. I understand that ‘gaggle’ is also military slang.

  4. I’ve always respected S-G’s ethical stance on the issue but had failed to give due credit to ‘gaggle’ til now. While gaggle may be military slang- I am in no position of knowledge to assent or deny the claim- bunch is a term originating in the police of Geneva, and conveys both a somewhat derogotary note but also, and importantly, a sense of fear and distrust of the unlikely gatherings of obscure ‘layabout’ writers, fermenting as they might intellectual and social unrest. Geneva, of course, something of a honeypot for such birds scattered from the native nests of conventional concerns.

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