A confusion of politicians? Collective nouns for our times

A confusion of politicians? A Titanic of Brexiteers? A complacency of Remainers? Over lunch today I challenged a group of friends (a sandwich of chums?) to come up with collective nouns for the current membership of the House of Commons. Those three were the best they came up with - along with a pudding of cabinet ministers. And a sprout of Eurocrats - which I had to think about for a moment.

I collect collective nouns. Is there a collective noun for collective nouns? I’m not sure. There ought to be. My Twitter followers have come up with a few interesting suggestions:

A clutch of collectives

A catch of collectives

A bunch of collectives

A gathering of collectives

A cacophony of collectives

A whimsy of collectives

A soviet of collectives

I like the last, with its nod to the collective farms of the old Soviet Union, but perhaps a straightforward ‘collection of collectives’ is all we want? (I suppose ‘a soviet of napkins’ would be considered non-U? ‘A fold of napkins’ sounds more likely.)

The best-known collective nouns relate to animals and birds. These are my favourites:

a flock of camels

a herd of antelope

a colony of bats

a colony of beavers

a swarm or hive of bees

a sounder of boar

an obstinacy of buffalo

a clowder of cats

a clutch of chicks

an intrusion of cockroaches

a quiver of cobra

a kine of cows

a band of coyote

a float of crocodiles

a murder of crows

a smack of jellyfish

a descent of woodpeckers

a kindle of kittens

a route of wolves

an unkindness of ravens

a building of rooks

a cete of badgers

a shrewdness of apes

an exaltation of larks

a deceit of lapwings

a pride of lions

a plague of locusts

a dray of squirrels

a knot of toads

a mumuration of starlings

a hover of trout

a flight of swallows

a rafter of turkeys

a mustering of storks

a pitying of turtledoves

a watch of nightingales

a host of sparrows

a covey of partridges

a bale of turtles

a parliament of owls

a gam of whales

a colony of ants

an army of caterpillars

a peep of chickens

a murder of crows

a sloth of bears

a drove of cattle

a nest of rabbits

a dule of doves

a balding of ducks

a congregation of plovers

a school of fish

a skulk of foxes

a leap of leopards

a harras of horses

a siege of herons

a brood of hens

a cast of hawks

a gaggle of geese

a husk of hares

a string of ponies

a crash of rhinoceros

a pod of seals

an ostentation of peacocks

an ambush of tigers

Don’t worry if your list of favourite collective nouns differs from mine. There is no definitive list. A flock of camels when it is on the move becomes a caravan or a train. It can be a dole as much a dule of doves - or a flight or a plague. If it’s turtle-doves we are talking about, it’s usually a pitying.

With sparrows you can have a host or a ubiquity or even a quarrel. Storks come in a muster or a phalanx and, with swans, you can have a gaggle or a gargle, a ballet or a bank, a whiteness or even (if they are airborne) a wedge.

Now and then I have tried to add to the established Noah’s Ark of animal collectives. My offerings to date have included a picnic of bears, a gobble of turkeys, a coat of doves, a jonah of whales and a tin of sardines.

Of course, there is more room for manoeuvre, and original wordplay, when you extend collectives beyond the animal kingdom. A Welsh friend offered me a couple of controversial possibilities: ‘A Wales of Jonahs’ and ‘a secession of nationalists’. ‘A cacophony of mime artists’ is nicely counter-intuitive. Here are the rest of my favourites:a mine of egotists

a guzzle of gourmets

a dampness of babies

a wobble of bicycles

a want of whiskey

a wagon of teetotallers

a riot of protestors

a condescension of know-it-alls

an I-told-you-so of pessimists

an elongation of anglers

an anticipation of aunts

a corps of apples

an expanse of broads

a depression of neurotics

a wince of dentists

a lot of developers

a nun of your business

a peck of kisses

a complement of sycophants

a lack of principals

a host of parasites

a dilation of pupils

an emulsion of painters

a caste of actors

a delivery of postmen

a strike of workers

a range of ovens

a furrow of brows

a habit of nuns

an entrance of actresses

a culture of bacteria

a hack of smokers

a shower of meteorologists

a sentence of judges

a dearth of servants

a mammon of bankers

a promise of politicians

a knot of Windsors

an annoyance of neighbours

a ponder of philosophers

a nucleus of physicists

a portfolio of stockbrokers

a flush of plumbers

a scoop of journalists

a prudence of vicars

a tenet of palindromes

a procrastination of tomorrows

an aftermath of deadlines

a clutch of gears

a brace of orthodontists

a rash of dermatologists

a box of pugilists

a flash of paparazzi

If you enjoy this sort of thing, you will enjoy two of my books: Word Play (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Word-Play-cornucopia-contortions-curiosities/dp/1473620309) and Have You Eaten Grandma? (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Have-Eaten-Grandma-Gyles-Brandreth/dp/0241352630/)

Gyles Brandreth