It’s a jungle out there!

“É um grande prazer ter o Amadeu Marques como o autor convidado nesta postagem. O Amadeu é autor prolífico de livros didáticos e paradidáticos de inglês, autor do melhor dicionário bilíngue português-inglês para brasileiros na minha opinião, autor de história infantil. A lista é longa. Juntos escrevemos Links: English for Teens, colaboramos em outros projetos, passeamos e demos muitas risadas ao longo do Rio Douro, aprendemos sobre vikings no British Museum. A postagem do Amadeu mostra um dos seus vários pontos fortes: saber apresentar, de forma concisa e divertida, algumas peculiaridades da língua inglesa.”

Denise Santos

It was high noon, in the African summer. The sun seemed to have chosen me and me alone to shine on. I was trudging through the tall grass in the savannah, sweating like an overweight pig and cursing myself for being so stupid as to have chosen Africa for a vacation. Then I decided I might just as well make the best of it and try to have some fun.

Every now and then I saw a group of animals right before my eyes, so I had the idea of trying either to recall or to guess the collective noun we use in English for each of those groups of animals.    But a lot of time has gone by since those days and I simply can´t remember them all. Can you help me? Just read my story and fill in the blanks with the right collective noun for each case. Before filling in the blanks have a look at the tips in the box that follows the text.  They will help you get to the right word.

Photo by Harshil Gudka (Unsplash)

Ready? Come with me on this incredible linguistic journey through the “English collective noun jungle”.

First I saw a 1 …….. of cows, then a 2 ………. of sheep, then a 3 ………. of fish. I was amazed to see the number of ants crawling up a a tree right in front of me, it was a real 4 ……….. of ants. I also saw a 5 …………. of grasshoppers near that tree.

I looked at the sky and saw a 6 ………. of birds. I didn´t recognize those birds but then I heard a typical loud harsh sound and I saw a lot of crows on the ground. It was really a 7 …………… of crows. I had never seen so many of them cawing together.

A what? A murder of crows? You find that strange? Then brace yourself for some really strange collective nouns for animals.

I was near a river. I know, I know, you can´t find sardines in a river, but please make an exception. I swear I saw a 8 ……………… of sardines swimming together and (are you still with me?) when I looked at the riverbank I got really scared. I had never seen so many crocodiles together, it was a real 9 ……………… of crocodiles.

A what? An intrusion of crocodiles? I swear it´s true! Well, not the story, but the fact that in English we say “an intrusion of crocodiles” when they are together and we refer to them!

After that I saw a 10 ……… of wild dogs, a 11 …………….. of elephants, a 12 …………… of goats, and a 13 ………….. of gorillas. Got all of that? English is a crazy language!

And of course I also saw a 14 ………….. of kangaroos. I know, I know, what were those kangaroos doing in Africa? Well, they might have been left there by mistake, some trouble with Nature´s GPS, but that´s no big deal. The important thing is to remember that we use “troop” as a collective noun for kangaroos, got that?

We´re still in Africa, OK?  By that time I was sick and tired of all those animals and their collective nouns, but the whole story was not over yet. I kept seeing groups of animals, and now their collective nouns were really a weird linguistic choice. Please don´t give up, and brace yourself. The worst is still to come.

Don´t ask me how, but I had somehow come to a waterhole and I could see lots of big wild animals having a drink. I saw a group of rhinos making a loud noise. It was an impressive 15 …………….. of rhinos. I´d never heard such a racket before.

Besides them I could also see a lot of lions there, peacefully sharing the water with the other animals. I was proud of myself when I managed to remember that collective noun. Yes, sir, it was a powerful 16 …………… of lions. And there was more: some tigers were also there. I know, there are no tigers in Africa, but please let me tell you the story, it´s only a story. It was what?  An 17 ………….. of tigers! You say a pride of lions and an ambush of tigers! English is a crazy language, but we´re not done yet.

What else did I see there?  I saw a 18 ………….. of parrots and a 19 ……. of giraffes. Well, giraffes are tall, granted, so if you are lucky enough, as I was, to see a group of giraffes together you see something that reminds you of Paris, or of Pisa. There you are, a tower of giraffes!

And now, as we get to the end of the story and coming to the theme of politics and politicians, I swear a saw a 20 ……….. of salamanders as well as a 21 ……… of owls. A what? Yes, that´s right. I saw a group of large birds with a big head and big eyes, supposedly known to be wise. What did I see? A what?

By this time you must be sick and tired of weird collective nouns, but I still have one for you.  A collection of gnus (don´t pronounce the g), also called wildebeests (pronounce the w as a v). Those are African wild animals, a type of antelope with curved horns. There were lots of them together, so what did I see? An implausibility of gnus. Got that? English is a crazy language.

And now it´s time to check your answers. Have a look at the answer key after the box with the tips and find out your score.

         Tips:

  1. (You know this one, for sure.) It rhymes with bird.
  2. (You know this one, too, of course.) It rhymes with rock.
  3. (In the water, of course). Students go there, supposedly to learn something.
  4.  A collection of soldiers; together with the navy and air force, it makes    up the armed forces of a country.
  5.  (A gray mass of very small drops of water in the sky.) It rhymes with crowd.
  6.  (This one is easy.) It has to do with wings and rhymes with fight.
  7.  (Another name for “the crime of killing someone deliberately.”) It starts with an m and rhymes with herder.
  8.  (Your parents, your siblings, your children and yourself.) A group of people who live together (not always) and are related to one another.
  9.  (It has to do with the verb to intrude, it means something that interrupts a peaceful situation or a private event.) It rhymes with inclusion or with confusion.
  10.  (This one is common and easy.) It rhymes with back.
  11.  (A funny choice for a collection of elephants, probably associated with the myth that elephants have a great ability to remember things. So does your computer.
  12.  (A large group of related families who live in the same area, like the Native American nations.) The word rhymes with bribe.
  13.  (We use that word to refer to a group of musicians, like the Beatles.) It rhymes with land.
  14.  (Soldiers, especially in large numbers.) The word rhymes with group.
  15.  (A loud noise like the sound of two hard things hitting each other and breaking.) The word rhymes with cash.
  16.  (A sense of pleasure and satisfaction you have when you achieve something special). It rhymes with bride.
  17. (An attack from a hidden position.) The word rhymes with rosebush.
  18.  (An organization that makes or sells goods for money or that provides services; used in another context, the word means “people you are with”. If you keep “c….” with someone, you spend time with that person.
  19.  The word rhymes with power.
  20.  Maybe because those animals are supposed to withstand fire, and if you mean the Brazilian Congress some people would say that it has to do with fire from hell.
  21.  (An official elected group of politicians who meet to make the laws of the country, as in the United Kingdom.)
Wellington Country Park, England. Photo by Denise Santos

Answer key: 1. a herd of cows   2. a flock of sheep    3. a school (apparently a corruption of the word shoal) of fish     4. an army of ants     5. a cloud of grasshoppers  6. a flight of birds        7. a murder of crows   8. a family of sardines  9. an intrusion of crocodiles  10. a pack of wild dogs  11. a memory of elephants  12. a tribe of goats    13. a band of gorillas   14. a troop of kangaroos  15. a crash of rhinos  16. a pride of lions  17. an ambush of tigers   18. a company of parrots  19. a tower of giraffes 20. a congress of salamanders  21. a parliament of owls

After that implausibility of gnus, I guess it was time to wake up.  I opened my eyes, sat up and realized I had been lying on top of a little book called “Animal Collective Nouns”, which I had probably read before falling asleep. That´s what happens when you have nothing really important to do.

I hope you enjoyed adding some of those crazy collective nouns to your Useless Info list.

If not, I´ll ask a tribe of goats to haunt your dreams.


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