Saturday, May 23, 2009

An Exaltation of Larks

Rembember the word games we played back in December? It turns out that the one about groups of animals has a whole book dedicated to it. How did I not know this? In the midst of birthday gift-giving of language and writing books, my friend Melinda offered to buy me this book written by James Lipton, and originally published in 1968. On the grounds that I already have too many writing books, I gently declined, but checked it out from the library instead.

Mr. Lipton has researched the word origins of many unusual terms of venery, or collective nouns, including the aforementioned pride of lions. Of course candidates running for office are called a slate; that's where their names were originally listed. School of fish? Turns out it's a corruption of the word shoal. My new favorite of the old ones is a kindle of kittens. "To kindle means literally "to give birth."

The examples go on, eventually including several contemporary ones that Mr. Lipton invented himself. Perhaps you've seen a squeak of sneakers on display at the sprawl of malls. Or an eyesore of graffitti created by a yo yo of street gangs. Unexplained skin condition? You may need a rash of dermatologists. Or maybe in these troubled times you've experienced an evaporation of annuities, for which you blame a commission of brokers.

This book is definitely an inspiration to play with the language.


Tess said...

Oh, I love clever stuff like this -thanks for sharing. Some people have a way with language play that is downright fun :D

Sarah said...

I love it! Could a gathering of larks be anything other than an exultation? I'm going to put a hold on that book right away...