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AWADmail Issue 13

June 16, 1999

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

    This compilation is based on the theme sent during June 7-13, 1999. Check out the archive for June 1999 to see the theme and words.

Last week's theme featured a series of collective nouns and invited readers to contribute their own coinages. What an outpouring of clever word brewing it produced! It was a treat to read the creative expressions; however, winnowing a few from over a thousand to include here was not.

While these inventions were no doubt concocted in a playful spirit, one can't fail to notice a reflection of life itself in the fanciful idioms of day-to-day experience. From "a succor of grandmas" (Daniel Cummings dan polysense.com) to "a patience of tech support callers" (A.J. Coco ajcoco marshal.co.orange.ca.us), and "a whatever of teenagers" (Amy Guskin aguskin eamdc.com) to "a digression on web-searchers" (J.J. Hill library alznsw.asn.au), we witness our fears, follies, annoyances and attitudes.

The collective nouns ranged from those used to describe people from the world's oldest profession, "an anthology of pros," to the newest one, "a spider of webmasters," both suggested by a large number of readers. Almost every other calling in between was included. It seems the law profession is everyone's favorite choice for flagellation. Here are some of the choicest:

a codicil of lawyersAnn Azevedo (donnann tiac.net)
an objection of lawyersHamish MacEwan (amish macewan.gen.nz)
a tragedy of lawyersBob Nisonger (bnisonger backweb.com)
a brief of lawyersDan (dcovino manu.com), Amy Guskin (aguskin eamdc.com)
a slime of lawyersHelene Wenger (helene bkwk.com)
a greed of lawyersErickson (kepraha mbox.vol.cz)
a remora of lawyersJohn Virkkala (jvirkk aol.com)
a cheat of lawyersJ. Watts (jwatts rosemail.rose.hp.com)
a mercenary of lawyersMarlene Caroselli (mccpd aol.com)

As may be imagined, many took shots at other occupations stereotypically contemptible, such as tax-collectors and government officials. Enough bashing already. Let's see some other selections:

a circle of geometricians John Prowse (jprowse integratec.com.au)
a balm of grandmothers Sandy Troth (sjtroth mindspring.com)
a cylinder of CDs Ronald DelPorto (ronald_delporto steris.com)
a wildcard of hackers Tom Guest (tom division.co.uk)
a hindrance of tech-support people Deborah C.K. Wenger (dwenger amlaw.com)
a blizzard of AOL disks Elyse Chapman (elyse compuserve.com)
a host of nameservers J-Mag Guthrie (j-mag brokersys.com)
a monica of sins Peter Olsen (pcolsen draper.com)
a row of knitters B. Martin (bdmartin mail.cvn.net)
a silicone of Baywatch reruns Duck (duck hellskitchen.com)
a clutch of mechanics Lucy Dickinson (lrd worldway.com)
a phile of lovers Shirley Woods (shirleywoods compuserve.com)
a stoppit of parents Dirk Vanderbeke (vanderbeke t-online.de)
a conspiracy of traffic lights Thomas Maslen (maslen pobox.com)
a purchase of senators Maurizio C. Bettini-Saitta (mcbs usa.com)
a dump of spammers Catherine Carol Edge (ccedge indiana.edu)
a crop of plant scientists Patsy Evans (pevans canr1.cag.uconn.edu)
a collage of Post-it notes mbhumphry caltex.co.za
a drove of taxi cabs Jody Drake (jody mutrux.com)
a wad of gum-chewers Linda Bosserman (linda.bosserman cos.srs.com)
a dictionary of linguaphiles Glenn Glazer (gglazer ucla.edu)
a catch of jugglers Ann (annc idir.net)
a byte of programmers Dave Horsfall (dave fgh.geac.com.au)
an array of programmers Amod (prk vsnl.com)
a clique of computer mice Crystal Cutler (batbrat saws.softcom.net)
a portfolio of stock brokers Durgesh Rao (durgesh saathi.ncst.ernet.in)
a stack of newspapermen Gary Belkin (dnrme webtv.net)
an obfuscation of politicians Ed Paynter (efp pop.inetdirect.net)
a plurality of group nouns Subash Chandra K.V. (subbu amiindia.co.in)
a matrix of mathematicians Shawn Griffith (shawn-griffith raytheon.com)
a suite of chocolates Robert Tolmach (rtolmach micro-net.com)
a passion of poets Khatru (mckennml wellsfargo.com)
an imelda of shoes Rita M. Markey (rita.m.markey db.com)
a sneer of Mac users DBgammon (dbgammon nbnet.nb.ca)
a segregation of racists Hofmeyr (wrlhof iafrica.com.na)
an intimidation of gargoyles Harry M. Kachline (apu4039 corecom.net)
a sum of accountants Austen Naughten (anaughten oxfam.org.uk)
a counting of accountants Dean Kielpinski (trystero senet.com.au)
a number of accountants Dan Olinger (dolinger bju.edu)
a mass of priests Jim Zehr (jzehr sauder.com)
a class of computer programmers Jim Watters (jwatters cadvision.com) [a class of OOP programmers, to be more precise. -Anu]
an obfuscation of user manuals A. R. White (nomdenet isi.edu)
an enterprise of trekkies David Allen (david rsgsystems.com)
a beam of trekkies Cynthia J Hernandez (yo109cita juno.com)
a grab-bag of purse-snatchers Susan Williams (susianwil aol.com)
a 404 of former websites Larry Sherman (larry slac.stanford.edu)
a    of nihilists James S. Hawtree (raph fnal.gov)
a muddle of deans Michael Grant (michael.grant colorado.edu)
an interference of mothers-in-law John Weston (john.weston talk21.com)
a blather of chat-room participants Jeff Marx (jeffmarx aol.com)
a confusion of multi-disk CD players Robert Tolmach (rtolmach micro-net.com)
a brace of orthopedists/orthodontists (suggested by a lot of people)

The most popular collective term was a giggle of girls. Some other collective nouns that employ spoonerism, pun, blend, and other linguistic devices:

a wunch of bankers
a somephony of music critics Dinesh Katiyar (katiyar cs.stanford.edu)
an ear of colonels John Imhof (n2vw skyhigh.com), Projeto Alcance (alcance iconet.com.br)
a duke of URLs Ric Bailey (bailey grid.com)
a herd of hearing aids Robert Tolmach (rtolmach micro-net.com)
a dissemblage of politicians Mike Trebing (Mike.Trebing phil.frb.org)
a silence of lambs Fredrock (fkepler eyescape.com)

Ann Elise Smoot (ann.elise dial.pipex.com) asked, "I've really enjoyed the words this week, being an animal lover. I read recently that a group of larks is called an exaltation. Is this true? It doesn't confirm this in my dictionary. If it is true, what a wonderful fact!"

Yes, Ann, it is "an exaltation of larks." In fact this is the title of a book by James Lipton. This delightful book is a treasury of collective nouns from whimsical (a split of schizoids) to inspiring (a blur of Impressionists). Find it in your local library or a friendly neighborhood bookstore. If you need more, try "A Crash of Rhinoceroses" by Rex Collings.

Francis S.M. Barnett (fbarnett kamloopslawyers.com) sent this correction, "If you announce that you are in a sounder of swines, the grammarian ranger will not mourn your passing. Swine is the singular and plural for this usage (although for colloquial usage as a term of contempt, the plural with an "s" is acceptable)." Thank you!

We close with a couple of stories. From L. Rivlin (l.rivlin btinternet.com): "A few years ago, John Major invited some ex-prime ministers for a get-together at 10, Downing Street. I think it was Harold MacMillan, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher (I'm only absolutely sure about MacMillan and Thatcher). While they were there, Thatcher speculated about the proper word denoting a group of prime ministers. MacMillan suggested that the correct term would be: a lack of principals."

David Steelman (steelman ficnet.net) wrote, "I recall the story about a man and wife sitting in a bar. Another man came in and sat down next to the woman. As he sipped his drink, he ogled her until her husband, incensed, demanded that the man stop looking at his wife and wipe those filthy thoughts out of his mind. The man said, `I wasn't ogling your wife; I wasn't thinking any filthy thoughts; I just came in here for a piece of beer.' Since this `measure` word is normally associated with another noun and not with beer, it gives the lie to the man's words."

A word of thanks to everyone who took the challenge and contributed.

Your lexic ally,

A word is dead / When it is said, / Some say. / I say it just / Begins to live / That day. -Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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