Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, January 1, 2010

COLLECTIVE NOUNS

On this first day of the new year and the new decade, I was puzzling over what to write on my blog as I took my morning walk. A review of the past year's events? Predictions for the year just started? All that struck me as terminally boring, the sort of thing that prompts MSNBC or CNN to gather their anchors and pundits and color commentators on a split screen for an hour of hot air. Then, as I made it to the top of the hill at Country Club Road and turned to start the second half of my walk, I saw four deer gingerly crossing the road along which I walk. They were far enough away so that my presence did not startle them, and with virtually no traffic at 7:30 a.m. on a January 1st morning, they could amble across the road and disappear into the underbrush on the other side.

What do you call a group of deer?, I wondered. A herd, I thought, like a herd of cattle or buffalo. That put me in mind of some of the more exotic collective nouns that are one of the special wonders of the English language. We all know that a group of geese is a gaggle, a group of lions is a pride, and that a group of whales is a pod [although herd is also acceptable], but how many of you remember that a group of crows is a parliament, a group of starlings is a murmuration, and that a group of larks is an exaltation? A group of wolves is a pack, a fact burned into the minds of all of us old enough to remember the Second World War, when wolf packs of German submarines preyed on the convoys in the North Atlantic carrying men and material to Europe to fight the Nazis. [The problem of deciding how to deploy scarce destroyers and aircraft to search for the German subs was solved by an early application of the new discipline of Game Theory, but that is another story.]

When I got home from my walk, I googled "collective nouns" and came up with a wonderful site that lists scores and scores of delicious examples. You can find it at http://www.rinkworks.com/words/collective.shtml. Among the more delightful examples, none of which I knew, are: a sloth of bears, a shrewdness of apes, a deceit of lapwings, a lounge of lizards, a mischief of mice, a pounce of cats, and -- my favorite -- a bloat of hippopatami.

Warming to my task, I began to wonder what collective nouns we might put to good use in the political world. A prevarication of press secretaries came to mind, as did an hypocrisy of evangelicals, and a cupidity of bankers. A pomposity of pundits seemed a bit to easy, but surely we could make use of a treachery of Liebermans.

I invite my own Wolff pack to add to the list. Twenty-ten could be a fun year after all.

8 comments:

NotHobbes said...

A rack of Whips Perhaps?

Political whips of course! ;-)

Ann said...

My, my! You (plural) are up very early in the new year!

I offer a "congerie of capitalists" with "congerie" from the Latin meaning to "heap up"...from my American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd ed. 1992 hard cover...a virtual relic!

This "heap" is a foretaste of the economy in the coming year(s).....

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Keep them coming!

Hoe about a fasces of neo-cons? [that would have made a nice David Levine pen and ink drawing -- a bunch of neo-cons all tried together in a fasces.]

NotHobbes said...

A Prescience of Pessimists?

NotHobbes said...

A Fetor of Fascists?

Drew said...

Inventing novel collective nouns is a fine tradition. I've set up a website which invites submissions, and allows you to vote on them. Here is a list of some of the community favourites: http://all-sorts.org/popular/card

Robert Paul Wolff said...

OK. I have checked out Drew's suggested site, and it has some fabulous inventions, many of them too ribald for this staid site. I think the wittiest of all is "a coming together of porn stars." Many thanks, Drew.

Brenda said...

I fell over your memoir and blog recently. You may remember me from Cambridge days as Brenda Gilfix. You seem to have changed very little, serious and amusing in turn.

How about a florescence of philosophers?