An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes

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An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes

Category: Trivia
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A study into the origin of long-lost collective nouns. What do you call a collection of collective nouns? I have no idea.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Michael O'Mara
ISBN: 9781782433088

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We have all heard of a Pride of Lions, a Herd of Cattle and a Flock of Birds, but what about the less common, long forgotten collective nouns, like: a Bloat of Hippopotami, a Mutation of Thrushes, a Herd of Harlots or a Superfluity of Nuns? If you are interested in the English language and the origin of words, then you will really enjoy browsing this book.

Chloe Rhodes dons her best detective hat and goes in search of the origin of these colourful terms, many of which have their roots in the Middle Ages. A particularly useful source was the 'Book of St Albans', an influential book, likely written by the Prioress Dame Juliana Barnes, which lists 164 collective nouns in total, describing animals, birds, professions and people. Rhodes also refers to the works of Chaucer, Conan Doyle, James Lipton and others to clarify the meaning behind some of the more unusual terms.

The result is a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing little publication, set out in an accessible and easy-to-read style, which makes it the perfect book for 'dipping into' during a coffee break or whilst travelling. The book is divided into seven main sections, with the description of each noun covering about a page.

Many of the words had their origins in the behaviour or appearance of the particular animal they were associated with. Thus we have a Skulk of Foxes a Trip of Goats or a Paddling of Ducks. My favourite term has to be a Kindle of Kittens, as it conjures up in my mind a little mass of warm, furry bodies, purring away in contentment.

Terms describing people and professions were often very derogatory in tone. Religious groups seemed to be particularly despised, resulting in terms like a Skulk of Friars, a Lying of Pardoners and the oh, so subtle An Abominable Sight of Monks. Thus these terms can give us an idea of the prevailing view of the common people towards certain groups of people in society.

Sadly, many of the creatures and birds described in the book are now so rare that we no longer seem to need collective nouns to describe a group of them, Particularly poignant in this regard is the term A Host of Sparrows, which could be replaced with a Scarcity of Sparrows given their decline in recent years.

Although much of the book focuses on the Middle Ages, we have a few modern examples thrown in for good measure, especially those penned by James Lipton, who suggests a flatulence of bassoonists, a drip of roof painters and a fidget of altar boys.

And what of the title: An Unkindness of Ravens? Well, if you really want to know why ravens were viewed as unkind, or why their close relative the crow was viewed as murderous, you will just have to read the book for yourself. Many thanks to the publishers for my review copy.

Chloe Rhodes examines the origin of popular superstitious terms in the excellent Black Cats and Evil Eyes: A Book of Old-Fashioned Superstitions

Buy An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes at Amazon.com.


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