A Gaggle of Geese, A Murder of Crows

One of my kids asked me about the title of A WhiskeyJack in a Murder of Crows, and I had to explain that a group of crows was called a murder. When I was asked why, I explained that many different animals have different named groups and I don’t really know why the term murder was applied to crows.

I fibbed. Kind of.

I don’t know for sure, but when I took the tour of the Tower of London years ago, I heard the legend of the Ravens of the Tower of London, and also the story that ravens had come to be there when they set up residence at a time when there many executions at the Tower of London. They are, after all, carrion eaters. It was suggested at that time by our tour guide that a gathering of ravens somewhere indicated that there had been a murder and you would likely find the body where the ravens were. Is this true? I don’t know. It sounds good. And I didn’t want to tell my kids that, so I distracted them with A Gaggle of Geese.

I was hoping to find some source to shed light on the origins of a Gaggle of Geese, but my research has all proven to be reflexive. Some say the terms deriving from (or creating) the term gaggle have to do with gossiping, chatting, talking, etc. Others say exactly the opposite, that those terms came out of gaggle, based on the sounds that geese make when in grounded groups. Either way, it seems this term has to do with the noises made.

So this discussion with my kids of course led to ‘what else is there?’ Ha! Let me tell you, there is no shortage of strange names for animals! Here is one of the best lists I found: it is at Enchanted Learning.

It is fun to try to imagine where some of these names come from. Some seem obvious, such as a herd of (deer, elk, goats), others are more obfuscated: a bed of clams, a flock of camels, a cete of badgers. And then there are those that make you scratch your head: a shrewdness of apes, a sloth of bears, a dissimulation of birds, a smack of jellyfish?

Okay, so apes may be shrewd, and hibernating bears may be slow, but does a flock of birds really try to deceive, and what the heck is a smack of jellyfish?

My favorites? A surfeit of skunks, a crash of rhinoceroses, and a wisp of snipe. If you’ve ever hunted snipe, you’ll understand why it’s called a wisp. If you’ve never been on a snipe hunt, we should go sometime…

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