A Confusion of Script Editors and other collective nouns

One feature I particularly like about the English language, and one which may be more-or-less unique to it (or at least, doesn’t seem to feature in any other language with which I am acquainted – although that could be just because I don’t know the right ones or don’t know them well enough) is the rather colourful collective nouns used to describe certain groups of things, mostly animals.

These are things such as a “murder of crows”, a “gaggle of geese” or a “murmuration of starlings”, to pick just three of the ones I can actually remember without having to look them up.  Some, such as the gaggle of geese, are fairly much in common usage, while others (including the starlings and possibly also the crows) are probably less so.

I recently came across “the confusion of script editors” in an essay by Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood in volume 2 of their excellent About Time series of reference books on classic Doctor Who (it was towards the end of their entry on “The Evil of the Daleks”, in case you’re wondering) which they claimed, almost certainly with tongue firmly in cheek, is the collective noun for this particular kind of animal.

My trusty Collins Gem English Dictionary, which I got when I started at secondary school in the late 1980s and which I still have on my desk at work (although I usually look online or consult one of my bigger dictionaries at home if I need a definition of a word these days) has a particularly good list of collective nouns at the back.  It doesn’t mention script editors or crows but, apart from geese and starlings, some of the delights it has to offer are an exaltation of larks, a chattering of choughs, a labour of moles, a skulk of foxes and a gang of elk (it doesn’t list a collective noun for gnu, or hartebeest for that matter).  Incidentally, the word gaggle apparently only applies to geese on the ground.  In flight they are more correctly referred to as a skein of geese, although it is also correct to refer to a flock of geese in either state.

Naturally, while doing some research for this post, I had a look on Wikipedia to see what that had to say on the subject of collective nouns.  Apparently collective nouns for specific groups of animals are called “terms of venery” and stem from an English hunting tradition of the late middle ages.  As such, and unlike more general collective nouns which do crop up in many languages, terms of venery do indeed seem to be more-or-less specifically English.  As may be expected, Wikipedia has quite a comprehensive list of terms of venery (though still no gnus).

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