A Plethora Of Terms
Playing The Venereal Game
By Seth L. Haber, MD, FCAP
Nitpickers tend to dwell upon small points that can easily be enlarged. We can make mountains out of minutiae (of which there are both equine and bovine
varieties). To fellow colleagues and nitpickers, language can assume major importance. Impressed with the entropoid phenomenon of reducing language to the least possible number of
words, (if you know what I mean) many of us mourn the passing of accurate nouns of multitude. Words like a "couple," a "few," and a "lot" have been applied to "all sorts of
things," perhaps indiscriminately.
In days of yore, huntsmen coined specific terms for groups of animals. Knowledge and use of these terms was a mark of cultured gentlemen, and they would test each other in what
was known as "the venereal game."
Now, having picked my nit, I offer to appreciative cognoscenti this compendium of proper nouns of multitude.
First, to the birds. A group of small birds is a dissimulation. In general, birds are a flock, a congregation, a flight, a volery, or an aviary. The nightingales that sing you to
sleep are a watch. Several rooks are a building or a clamor, hawks a cast, snipes a walk or a wisp, quail or larks a bevy, grouse a brood or a cover, pheasants a nide, and
partridges a covey. Peacocks, as we all know, are an ostentation, a muster, or a pride. Plover are a stand. In flight, ducks are a team or a skein, a paddling on the water, or a
brace if only a pair. Mallards, in particular, are a flush, a paddling, a sord, or a sute. Geese are a gaggle on the water, but a flight anywhere else. Herons are a siege,
where'er they may be. Swans are a herd, a team, a bank, or a wedge. Eagles (bald or hirsute) are a convocation. Parrots are a flock. Cormorants are a flight. Ravens are an
unkindness, and crows are a murder (most fowl?). Swans are a herd, a team, a bank, or a wedge. Turkeys are a rafter. Starlings aggregate as a murmuration, larks an exaltation,
turtledoves a pitying, and goldfinches a charm. Woodcock are a fall or flight and woodpeckers a descent.
Any of the beasts can be referred to as a menagerie. However, it's the individual group names that help to make venery the best game in town, although in this sense at least
"venery" refers to hunting and the pursuit of game animals. For hunters, elk are a gang, foxes an earth or a skulk, sheep and goats a trip, tribe, herd, or flock, lions a pride,
sowse, sault, troop, or a flock, bears a sloth or a sleuth, and hares a drove, husk, or a down. Deer are a herd. For the gatherers, too many nouns of multitude are a plethora.
Buffalo are a troop or a herd, wolves a pack or a rout, domestic pigs a doylt, litter, trip, or herd, wild swine a sounder, oxen a drove, and
leopards a leap. Dogs come as a kennel or a brace; if wild, a pack.
If you can't keep up the pace which, incidentally, is a group of asses, you may wish for a barren of mules, a herd or haras of horses (I know it may seem a contradiction, but
there sometimes seems to be more horses' harases in this world than horses). Colts are a rag, and chamois are a herd, although I would have imagined it would be a rag of chamois
and a herd of colts. Badgers are a cete or set, moles a labor, kangaroos a troop, and ferrets a feamying. Those cute little kittens are a kindle, cats a clouder, tomcats a
clowder, cluster, or glaring, curs a cowardice, and apes a shrewdness. Boars are a singular and some humans are singularly boaring. Ferrets are a business, although I've heard it
said that many are in business.
As to the fishes in the water, they are generally a school, draught, haul, run, or a shoal. Commercial fisherman refer to them as a catch. Herrings are an army, perch a pack,
sardines a family, jellyfish a smuck, and lox a mekhaya.
Since not many of us are really all that fascinated by the insects (which aggregate as a swarming) or the snakes, I'll progress to man, himself, leaving the feminist issues of
gender until later. Witches are a coven, boys a blush, girls a bevy or a giggle, beauties a galaxy, children a troop, butlers a drought, hermits an observance, consultants a
maven, and some editors a pain. Worshippers are a congregation and angels a host. Thieves are a gang or a skulk, ruffians a horde, blackguards a mob, robbers a band, and some
people a crowd.
Physicians, no matter how small or large the group, are always in a class by themselves. Collectively, they are a college, and often a bore. In conventions, they may be a caution.
In days of yore, they were an independence; now, they are a review of peers and an inadequacy of reimbursement. Medical students often are a disappointment, and interns a trial or
a tribulation. Residents come by the rotunda, although I have heard some refer to a term of residents. Orthopoedists are a brace, osteopaths a joint, and podiatrists a parade.
Dermatologists are a rash. Surgeons are an incision, a pack, or a stitch. Many an anesthesiologist is a gasser.
Neurologists are a twitch or a bundle. Analysts are a dream, psychiatrists a complex or a detachment, virologists a strain, geneticists are a gene or a succession. Don't forget,
there are some cytogeneticists who look great in designer genes. Immunologists are a complement, mycologists a tuft, parasitologists a cycle, and epidemiologists a plague or a
vector. Gastroenterologists are a rumble or an eructation. Cardiologists may be a cor, a thrill, a flutter or a murmuration, diagnosticians a guess, hematologists a clump or a
blast, and radiologists a ray, a screen, or a scan. Both electrocardiographers and electroencephalographers are a squiggle, and ultrasonographers are a sounding.
Of course, gynecologists are a sexion or a smear, cytologists a cell, obstetricians a push or a labor, and pediatricians a nursery or a squall. Urologists must be a stream or a
puddle. Otolaryngologists are a gaggle, otologists a herd, and ophthalmologists an ogle or a see. Plastic surgeons are a pride, a tuck, or an augmentation, and dentists a drill.
Anatomists are a corps or a gross. Pathologists, those gentlemen and scholars, are a section or a tissue, some say "a lesion." Forensic pathologists are a slew or, like crows, a
murder. Occasionally, hospital administrators and governmental bureaucrats may be a plague.
Certainly, physicians are not unique in this respect. There must be a wealth of not-yet-coined terms describing other groups of scientists and professionals. How about a theory of
physicists, a big bang or a cosmos of astronomers, a reaction of chemists, a slither of herpatologists, a wilt of horticulturists, or a testing of psychometricians (those souls
who time men's tries)? What about a lynching of attorneys, a number of accountants, an assemblage of factory workers, a scurrying of gofers, a typing of secretaries, a fraud of
auditing/accounting firms and a scam of corporate officers? (There is no end to this new version of the venereal game. Why not join in making up some of your own?)
There are also proper specific terms for the males, females, and young of members of specific groups of the animal kingdom.
A couple (mating pair) of ducks, known as a drake and a duck, may have a duckling. The group would still be known as a team or a skein, a paddling on the water, or a brace if only
a pair, and a flush, a paddling, a sord, or a sute if they're mallards. But, let's move on.
The offspring of Mr. and Mrs. Goose, a gander and a dame, is a gosling. A cob and a pen swan, may produce a little cygnet. The mating of a cock and a hen eagle produces an eaglet.
Grouse produce a cheeper or a poult, hawks an eyas, partridges a squeaker; and cock and hen pigeons a squab. Of course, everybody knows that a peacock's mate is a peahen, and that
a cock pheasant mates with a hen. Cock and a hen fishes may have fries: (no, that is not the origin of "a fish fry").
The successful mating of a jackass and a she-ass will produce a colt or a foal. A boar and a sow badger will produce a set, while a bear and a she-bear will beget a cub. A bull
and a cow, whether buffalo, camel, or whale, produce a calf.
Tomcats and queans produce a kindle of kittens. A stag or a hart red deer, mating with a hind, will produce a fawn or calf. A buck and a doe fallow deer produce a fawn and, if
they are roe deer, a roe-buck and a doe produce a kid or a fawn.
A billy-goat and a nanny-goat produce a kid. Ferrets are a dog and a bitch. A dog-fox and a vixen produce a cub. A buck and a doe hare produce a leveret, not a bunny rabbit. A dog
and bitch produce a puppy. There is no such thing as "a hare of the dog," although the condition necessitating the search for one may be a bitch.
A horse and a mare produce a foal which, in its teenage years, may harass its otherwise stable parents. Big cats, including the leopard and leopardess, the lion and the lioness,
and the tiger and the tigress, all produce cubs. A dog and bitch otter also produce a cub. The boar and souse pig, if domestic (sounder, if wild) produce piglets. A hob and a jill
polecat can produce kittens. Ram and ewe sheep produce lambs.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and I'll end this plethora of terms with the admonition that it may be important to know the appropriate names, "like, if you
know what I mean," it's not sufficient just to recognize their existence. Thou shalt know the appropriate nouns of multitude, males, females, mating pairs, and the young, and that
knowledge shall make ye free.
Dr. Haber is a retired Chief of Pathology at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara, California, and Emeritus Clinical Professor of Pathology at Stanford University
School of Medicine.
The article represents a 20-year collection of terms from multiple sources. This version is adapted from the one published in his book, Innovations in Pathology: The Best of
Thirty Years. "Innovations..." is a column Dr. Haber has been writing for the College of American Pathologists for almost 35 years. It is the longest-standing column in
American medicine. The book is available as a PDF download through the College of