I have a weakness for collective nouns. I also have a weakness for visual jokes. PatrickGeorge (one word, author/illustrator Peter Scott and publisher Ann Scott’s sons, I’m guessing, since the book is dedicated to them) provides two in one with this wonderfully illustrated compilation of bird and animal group names. Look at this fantastic illustration for “a murder of crows.” Colonel Mustard, in the library with a candlestick. This is my kind of illustrated dictionary.
For each phrase, Scott literalizes the phrase in a graphic and bold illustration. For “a storytelling of ravens,” the bird’s wings are transformed into the fluttering pages of a book, for “a kettle of hawks,” the birds emerge, steam-like, from the spout of a kettle.
Some of the collective nouns defy credibility. A kettle of hawks and a storytelling of ravens both had me raising an eyebrow, sleuth-like. My Shorter Oxford did not include definitions for these collective nouns, but the internet tells me that they are, in fact, legit, though some would quarrel with the provenance of the more whimsical phrases.
Each phrase is accompanied by a short paragraph about the animals in question that attempts to rationalize how we have arrived at the noun used to collect them. So the description for a filth of starlings is
These common birds, sturnus vulgaris, live in flocks and are noisy, gregarious and messy. In winter they gather daily to roost in the treetops, creating unwelcome filth below. Yet if you look up into the sky each day at dusk in winter, you will see them–a swirling black cloud, swooping and regrouping– one of nature’s constants among the chaos.
I like that recuperation of their reputation there. Word hound that I am, I would have liked more sturdy etymologies for the phrases, but you can’t have everything, and I’m happy with what I’ve got.
PatrickGeorge has also published A Drove of Bullocks, and both books were published in 2011.