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Animal congregation catch-all title?

  1. Feb 21, 2017 #1
    This might be a bit of an odd question, but is there a universal word that describes animal congregations?
    There are different types of congregations of course: http://www.animalsguru.com/animal-groups.html

    I know congregation is a description of the concept itself but I find the word to be a bit of a cumbersome. Any other word(s) that anyone has come across that is more official or at the least, better sounding?

    There is animal groups, but that is a bit too informal perhaps?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2017 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    Collective nouns and terms of venery:
    This started as an artifact of Middle English aristocrats hunting exploits, not science. Look up 'collective nouns'. So, no, there is no one 'correct' group name for a murder of crows, except a murder of crows. Your choice of the word group is good, too. Assembly works.

    These kinds of linguistic conceits proliferated during Victorian times, in all of the English speaking world.
    See: Terms of Venery section in

    As an aside, if you are interested, the terms used for male, female, and young of a species vary enormously. Again, a linguistic leftover.
  4. Feb 22, 2017 #3
    Straight to the source! Thanks Jim, super helpful!
  5. Feb 22, 2017 #4
    Populace came to bind, but then I realized this applies probably mainly to humans.

    Another interesting one, although a bit of a stretch perhaps could be "a body of".
  6. Mar 9, 2017 #5
    "Aggregation" perhaps ? "Congregation" has connotations of a gathering of worshippers.
  7. Mar 9, 2017 #6
    'Group' is itself a possibility.
  8. Mar 9, 2017 #7
    I think population would work well too
  9. Mar 9, 2017 #8


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    Bunch. :biggrin:

    (works for flowers, too)
  10. Mar 9, 2017 #9


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    I like population because it is widely used in evolution.

    Its hard to beat a Murder of Crows though.
  11. Mar 9, 2017 #10

    jim mcnamara

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    There's a neat linguistic thing going on here. Languages seldom maintain two different words (or the equivalent of word) with precisely the same meaning.
    All of the suggestions make more or less proper sense. None are completely correct for some large mammals, many common birds, and virtually all domesticated animals. To be completely correct you employ existing terms of venery - as stilted as they may seem. I personally do not care because most people do not know all of them. I do not know all of them. Of course which one is "correct" is not always clear.... there are a lot of possibilities. I think some are the result of people conlanging new terms ad hoc because nobody else was even remotely like to know. See the reference section on the link below.

    Here is a complete list (they say it is anyway) : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_terms_of_venery,_by_animal
    Note two things - most of the animals are European - ex: stoats, starlings and sparrows are from Europe. And for many beasties there are multiple terms, some of which have other uses, like a "glide" of swans. Glide is both a noun and a verb with non-animal meanings.

    I would like to propose 'foo factory' for a room full of programmers.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2017
  12. Mar 9, 2017 #11


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    This is making me think of possible terms for groups of solitary animals like:
    • an Isolation of Hermits. or a Congregation of Hermits (in case they are religious)
  13. Mar 9, 2017 #12
    Well except in funerals,
  14. Mar 10, 2017 #13
    It strikes me that no single word would suffice in any case, for any animal. Why? Because not all groups or populations are the same; there are many different contexts, many different associations.

    E.g. for bees, the link the OP provided says, "grist, hive, swarm." To this we could certainly add "colony." And all these words refer to different contexts:
    • "Grist" is the least meaningful of these terms and the most like "group" or some other general term; according to my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, which I trust more for older words than I do the Internet, "grist" as a collective noun is just an old word in the U.S. (first example given is 1832) meaning "a lot"; so it wasn't applied just to bees, but also to rain, and even to bills in a congress, e.g. from a 1906 Massachusetts newspaper article: "A good-sized grist of matter was presented in the House last week under suspension of its rules."
    • "Hive" is similar to "colony" but might be used for the dwelling, i.e. the physical structure, as well as the socially organized bees that live there.
    • "Swarm" is specific to groups of bees that are swarming as part of creating a new colony.
    So a generic word such as "population" or "group" would be inadequate to handle such meanings. Even in casual use when talking about people, if we meant "family" we wouldn't say "population."

    General terms might suffice once a context has been established; but even then, it's likely that some seemingly general terms would still be be chosen for a reason, that is, for a particular context; e.g. "population" might convey a variety of meanings when writing about this versus that topic in medicine, biology, epidemiology, or zoology.

    "Group" is probably about as context-free as we can get . . . but even it can still carry associations depending on the context. For example, saying someone is a member of a "group" in an article about some hot-button political issue typically implies that this person shares a unified point of view with that "group" in some fashion; it's decidedly not to do with a merely physical grouping, that is, persons who happen to be in the same location. This may seem obvious since usually we know what is meant; but that's precisely my point - we know what is meant because there is always a context, even for seemingly neutral-seeming words.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  15. Mar 10, 2017 #14
    I'm not sure the more outlandish ones they have even that much credibility. If you look at the footnotes for the Wikipedia article on venery, you'll find that one of the cited sources is this page - https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/what-do-you-call-a-group-of - which includes this caution as a preface:

    Many of the following terms belong to 15th-century lists of 'proper terms', such as those in the Book of St Albans attributed to Dame Juliana Barnes (1486). Some are fanciful or humorous terms which probably never had any real currency, but have been taken up by antiquarian writers, notably Joseph Strutt in Sports and Pastimes of England (1801).​

    The terms specifically to do with hawking may possibly have had currency among the wealthy - the article on Book of St. Albans in Wikipedia links to sources including this Google Books preview of a 1968 book, "Essays in Later Medieval History". Other than that I think it's worth noting that the noun "murder" in the OED doesn't include among its entries any listing whatsoever for groups of crows; which implies that as a term, it never enjoyed actual usage in past centuries, otherwise the OED would have picked it up. Folks seem to get a kick out of "a murder of crows"; yet if no one ever really said this, it goes a bit flat.

    Strange or archaic words that we know to have actually been used seem far more interesting, not least because they come with usage examples that can be quite arresting. The OED is stuffed with these sorts of words.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  16. Mar 10, 2017 #15


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    "Congregation" in this sense is an animal metaphor; it literally means "flocking together" (from the shepherd/sheep metaphor).
    And some of the words in that link are wrong. There is no such thing, for example, as a kine of cows; "kine" is simply an old plural of "cow", cf. ox/oxen. In the King James Bible, Pharaoh dreamt of "seven fat kine and seven lean kine". A "congregation" of cows is a herd.
  17. Mar 10, 2017 #16

    jim mcnamara

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    @UsableThought - Exactly. I indicated later on that 19th century writers started using these terms after a long hiatus. As you point out, the references indicate that there is no perfect way to see if the usage was not simply a conceit.

    The OED is indeed considered the resource for what is and is not a word in English. However the question was asked by someone who did not know about terms of venery. It is possible to say that something is correct using that context. Archaic, obsolete, or Victorian nonsense notwithstanding.
  18. Mar 10, 2017 #17
    Thanks so much for all the feedback! Just goes to show how much terminology can conflate in languages.

    Sounds like the best contender so far is "group", as it is the most "neutral". What is more, @UsableThought 's point about political human groups really brought it home, since that was one of the stimulators for this question and this expression would in essence include various human "congregations" too. It would have to. In some way, this thread itself is a congregation of its own kind.

    With these kinds of situations, I am always tempted to invent a new word, but then, as pretty much everyone seems to agree, this is a really hard one since it is so context dependent.

    Or just snatch a word not everyone knows, I really took a liking to storks' migrating groups title: phalanx! :)
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