An Exaltation of Larks: More than One Thousand Terms

An Exaltation of Larks: More than One Thousand Terms

by James Lipton

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Overview

A delightfully unexpected, lovingly curated ode to the unique collective nouns that adorn our language, from “a leap of leopards” to “a murder of crows” and beyond, from the inimitable voice behind Inside the Actors Studio

“I am madly in love with collective nouns! They make language so colorful and ticklish. . . . [An Exaltation of Larks] possess[es] an embarrassment of riches (wink wink!).” —Lupita Nyong’o, The New York Times

For those who have wondered if the familiar “pride of lions” and “gaggle of geese” were merely the tip of a linguistic iceberg, James Lipton has provided a definitive answer: here are hundreds of equally pithy, often poetic terms he has unearthed and collected into one exhaustive volume. Over years of painstaking research, he embarked on an odyssey that has given us a “slouch of models,” a “shrivel of critics,” an “unction of undertakers,” a “blur of Impressionists,” a “score of bachelors,” a “pocket of quarterbacks,” and many more.

Witty, beautiful, and remarkably apt, An Exaltation of Larks is a brilliant compendium of more than 1,100 resurrected or newly minted contributions to that ever-evolving species, the English language.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140170962
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/1993
Edition description: The Ultimate Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 156,539
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.92(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

James Lipton was the creator, executive producer, writer, and host of Inside the Actors Studio, which has been seen in eighty-nine million homes in America and in 125 countries and has received fourteen Emmy nominations. He was the author of the novel Mirrors, which he then adapted and produced for the screen, and of the American literary perennial An Exaltation of Larks, and has written the book and lyrics of two Broadway musicals. He was a vice president of the Actors Studio and the founder and dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, he received three honorary PhDs, France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Read an Excerpt

Part II: The Known
 
This list contains some of the terms of venery that are a part of our living speech. Many of them are as old as the terms in Parts III and IV, but since we still use them, I have separated them from their brothers and sisters.
 
They may be so familiar that we say or read them without thinking: they have lost their poetry for us. But step back for a moment from some of these familiar terms—A PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS, A PRIDE OF LIONS, A LITTER OF PUPS (plague! pride! litter!)—and perhaps their aptness and daring will reappear.
 
So with all the terms in this part: we begin on familiar ground, to sharpen our senses by restoring the magic to the mundane.
 
***
 
A SCHOOL OF FISH
As noted earlier, school was a corruption of shoal, a term still in use for specific fish. C. E. Hare, in The Language of Field Sports, quotes John Hodgkin on this term arguing that school and shoal are in fact variant spellings of the same word, but Eric Partridge, I think correctly, sees them coming from two different roots, the former from ME scole, deriving from the Latin schola, a school, and the latter from the OE sceald, meaning shallow. I think it is obvious that in the lexicon of venery shoal was meant and school is a corruption.
 
A CATCH OF FISH
Deceased.
 
A PACK OF DOGS
 
A LITTER OF PUPS
 
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS
 
A MOUNTAIN OF DEBT
 
A HILL OF BEANS
 
A DOSE OF SALTS
 
A PRIDE OF LIONS
One of the oldest venereal terms, antedating even the English lists in the French lyons orgeuilleux. The earliest English manuscript, Egerton, and The Book of St. Albans both have a Pryde of Lyons.
 
A HERD OF ELEPHANTS
 
A NEST OF VIPERS
Also, generation of vipers, Jesus’s characterization of the multitude that came to be baptized. “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Luke, 3:7.
 
A BARREL OF MONKEYS
 
A FIELD OF RACEHORSES
 
A HERD OF HORSES
 
A STRING OF PONIES
 
A BROOD OF HENS
 
A RUN OF POULTRY
 
A FLOCK OF SHEEP
 
A TEAM OF OXEN
Dating from the fifteenth century Harley Manuscript.
 
A CLOUD OF GRASSHOPPERS (Or GNATS)
 
A SWARM OF BEES
 
A NEST OF WASPS
 
A PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS
 
A COLONY OF ANTS
 
AN ARMY OF CATERPILLARS
 
A BUNCH OF GRAPES
 
A HAND OF BANANAS
 
A SHEAF OF WHEAT
Sheaves are stalks of grain tied together.
 
A SHOCK OF CORN
A shock is a pile of sheaves of grain or stalks of corn propped in a field. See thrave of threshers.
 
A BENCH OF JUDGES
 
A COLLEGE OF CARDINALS
 
A BOARD OF TRUSTEES
 
A FIELD OF RUNNERS
 
A GANG OF LABORERS
 
A LINE OF SOVEREIGNS
 
AN ORDER OF PEERS
 
A COVEN OF WITCHES (FEMALE)
 
A CONGERIES OF WITCHES (MALE)
 
A GATHERING OF CLANS
 
A POSSE OF VIGILANTES
From the Latin posse comitatus, power of the county, those citizens subject to callup by an English sheriff in times of trouble. In America’s Old West the term—and custom—were given considerable latitude.
 
A BEVY OF BEAUTIES
This is one of the few terms of venery whose origin is uncertain. Hodgkin says, “There is no satisfactory etymology for the word ‘bevy.’” Partridge marks it o.o.o.—of obscure origin; but hazards the guess that it derives from the Old French bevée, a drink or drinking.
 
A BAND OF MEN
Hence also band for a group of musicians.
 
A SLATE OF CANDIDATES
Doubtless deriving from the time when nominees’ names were chalked on one.
 
A CONSTITUENCY OF VOTERS
 
A COLLEGE OF ELECTORS
 
A CONGREGATIO OF PEOPLE
 
A PASSEL OF BRATS
An American term, of course. Donald Adams went looking for this one, finding it finally in Wentworth’s American Dialect Dictionary as “hull passel of young ones,” “a passel o’ hogs,” etc., but no etymology is given. A Southern friend assures me, however, that passel is simply “parcel” in a regional dialect.
 
A HOST OF ANGELS
An interesting term this. J. Donald Adams, in The Magic and Mystery of Words, says, ‘‘Angels in any quantity may be referred to only as a host. The word’s title to that distinction is clear enough; host derives from the Latin hostis, meaning enemy, and hence came to mean an army. It was presumably applied to angels as the warriors of God.”
 
A HAIL OF GUNFIRE
 
A FUSILLADE OF BULLETS
 
A NEST OF MACHINE GUNS
 
A BARRAGE OF SHELLS
 
A BAPTISM OF FIRE
 
A QUIVER OF ARROWS
At the beginning of this section, I suggested we step back from these familiar terms, to experience them anew. This candidate for reevaluation can be found as a quiver of arrows in Psalters dated as early as 1300; which tells us that more than seven hundred years ago someone, who could have used the familiar thirteenth-century words case or scabbard, arbitrarily and whimsically turned quiver into a noun—and a timeless portrait of an arrow trembling in its target.
 
A CHORUS OF COMPLAINT
 
A TISSUE OF LIES
Also, pack.
 
A DEN OF THIEVES
 
A CAN OF WORMS
 
A HEAD OF STEAM
 
A FLEET OF SHIPS
 
A SET OF CHINA
Since, as noted on the preceding page, the purpose of this section is to restore the magic to the mundane by reexamining words we take for granted, let’s see what happens when we put our magnifying glass over the commonest of these common terms, set. Any surprises? Yes: the Oxford English Dictionary devotes 23 pages to the word! “The complete collection of the ‘pieces’ composing a suite of furniture, a service of china, a clothing outfit, or the like,” descended from the Old French sette, is there, as is a set of badgers (q.v.)—but so are hundreds of other definitions, nuances, roots and tributaries. The point of this note is that the intrepid semanticist in search of any word’s meaning may find himself hacking his way through an Amazonian jungle of possibilities. And that, as every page of this book attests, is the great and everlasting glory of the vast, supple, subtle English language.
 
A PEAL OF BELLS
 
A FLIGHT OF STAIRS
 
A PATTER OF FOOTSTEPS
 
A ROUND OF DRINKS
 
A ROPE OF PEARLS
 
A BOUQET OF FLOWERS
 
AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
 
A CONSTELLATION OF STARS
 
A PENCIL OF LINES
A proper contemporary group term in mathematics.
 
A BILL OF PARTICCLARS
 
A MESS OF POTTAGE

Table of Contents


I. The Beginning

II. The Known

III. The Unknown

IV. The Unexpected

V. The Game of Venery: First Move 

People, Places and Things
Professions
Home and Family
Daily Life
High Life
Low Life
Romance and Raunch
Medicine and Health
Academe
Science and Technology
Sports
Games and Recreation
Music
Stage
Screen
Arts and Letters
Religion
Politics and Law
Journalism
Business and Finance
Travel
Cops and Robbers
The Armed Services
Zoology
Cases in Point
Afterword

VI. The Game of Venery: Second Move

Index

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