A stubborn cairn

A stubborn of cairns – collective nouns

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Spring is coming

In Winter it becomes increasingly difficult to walk the around the village towing The Reluctant Dog behind on her lead. If there is one thing that she hates more than rain it’s the ‘prickly paws’ of the spiny conker shells carpeting the ground. Cairn terriers are well-known for their independent (or difficult, depending on your point of view) nature and The Reluctant Dog is no different. Any threat of inclement weather and she anchors her paws to the tarmac as only a cairn terrier can and refuses to budge.
The Easter weekend always heralds the transition from Winter to Spring, so we can now look forward to some warmer (and drier) walks. As I’m feeling the holiday spirit this week I decided to have a break from the grammar and punctuation to look at something a little more light-hearted, plus it gives me an excuse to share with you a photo of The Reluctant Dog.

A stubborn cairn
The Reluctant Dog

Unusual collective nouns

I recently chanced on a list of ‘proper terms’ or collective nouns – phrases that describe a group of things – that dated to the fifteenth century. According to this OED blog the first collection of collective nouns in English was The Book of St Albans, dating to 1486, and the list includes many humorous and unusual terms. Many collective nouns we are all familiar with such as a shoal of fish or a herd of cows, and in fact, the words ‘family’, ‘audience’ and ‘government’ are all collective nouns. Here are a few more unusual, antiquated suggestions:

A shrewdness of apes
A sloth of bears
A glaring of cats (the Reluctant Dog likes this one)
A paddling of ducks
A business of ferrets
A skulk of foxes
An unkindness of ravens
A labour of moles
(Source: Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2015. OUP: Oxford)

Perhaps some of the more introverted editors may like the term ‘An observance of hermits’. In keeping with the animal theme I decided to invent my own proper term to describe a collection of small, difficult Scottish terriers: a stubborn of cairns. Have you invented any special terms for things in your life – post a comment below.

Enjoy the Easter holiday break

I hope that wherever you are it’s bright and sunny this Easter weekend and you can take a break from writing, studying or working to enjoy the first Spring holiday break of the year.