Monday, January 23, 2012


Jeff and I were recently in Iowa City and as I got out of the car at the gas station I was startled by the sound of birds. Lots of birds! Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" number of birds. The trees right next to the gas station were filled with hundreds and hundreds of starlings. I stood and listened to them for a while but a thought kept bothering me. I had just learned what a group of starlings was called. They have a special name, not just flock. It bothered me all the way home.

We have lots of specialized words for groups. Almost everyone knows that a group of fish is a school. Or a group of lions is a pride. But not as many know that a group of starlings is a murmuration. Or that a group of owls is a parliament. Luckily I have a handy reference guide, that my sweet little sister gave me. An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton (yes, that James Lipton) is filled with group names. A leap of leopards, a pod of whales, a host of angels. Some are more common than others. Others are far stranger.

The moment I got home from our trip I picked up my book and flipped through until I found the starlings. The book has no index so it's more about browsing than just finding. It is organized from most common to ones created by Mr. Lipton himself. The groupings are interspersed with pictures. My sister had seen it in a used book store and had bought it knowing my love of words and trivia. It is a joy to look through if you like words and wordplay.  It's a gift that I've come to appreciate more and more.

Here are just a few more examples of interesting grouping names:
A Murder of Crows (one of my favorite grouping names)
A Siege of Herons
A Singular of Boars
A Charm of Finches
A Tiding of Magpies
A Clowder of Cats
And of course An Exaltation of Larks

By the way, if you've never seen starlings in their flocks, you need to see this. Starlings (as much as they are disliked) have some of the greatest flying displays ever.

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