The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

Terms of Venery or Nouns of Assembly

Giraffe kindergarten

Terms of Venery (or Nouns of Assembly)
Courtly hunting in France and England was all the rage in the 14th and 15th centuries, with its own specialised vocabulary known as “terms of venery” (venery being an archaic word for hunting). A brave gentleman might hunt a pride of lions while one less brave might target a confusion of guinea fowl, or a lady could come across a murmuration of starlings or a bellow of bullfinches on her morning ride.

Terms of venery were the linguistic equivalent of silly hats: colourful, affected, fashionable, and very popular. And like most jargon, they were ripe for parody. Some say that it was The Book of Saint Albans in 1486 that started it all. Among its compaynys of beestys and fowlys, keen-eyed observers noticed several new species: a Fightyng of beggarsa Gagle of womena Sentence of Juges and an uncredibilite of Cocoldis (an incredulity of cuckolds — wouldn’t you be disbelieving if your better half were cheating on you?).

A Pride of Lions
Picture Credit: “A Pride of Lions” by Zeetz Jones is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The tradition of using “terms of venery” — collective nouns that are specific to certain kinds of animals — stems from an English hunting tradition of the Late Middle Ages. In the 14th century, it became a courtly fashion to extend the vocabulary, and by the 15th century, this tendency had reached exaggerated proportions. The focus on collective terms for groups of animals emerged in the later 15th century. To anyone learning English, these words must seem like cruel jokes, with no purpose other than to add complexity. And that’s exactly what they are or appear to be.

Many animal groups have colourful, fanciful names: a Murder of crows, a Covey of partridges, and so on. Did you know that many, if not all, the group names can be traced back to The Book of Saint Albans, published in 1486, about angling, hawking and hunting (see below)? The book is attributed to Juliana Berners (or Barnes or Bernes), who gave animal groups imaginative yet oddly appropriate names. Berners, who had an intimate knowledge of wildlife, may not have intended these names to be taken seriously, but they were repeated through the ages and are now commonly used. Here, courtesy of and others from the sources listed at the end of this paper are but a few.

The Book of Saint Albans
The Book of Saint Albans (or Boke of Seynt Albans) is the common title of a book printed in 1486 that is a compilation of matters relating to the interests of the time of a gentleman and not specifically to name for groups of different animals. It was the last of eight books printed by the St Albans Press in England. It is also known by titles that are more accurate, such as “The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Blasing of Arms”.The printer is sometimes called the Schoolmaster Printer. This edition credits the book, or at least the part on hunting, to Juliana Berners as there is an attribution to her at the end of the 1486 edition reading: “Explicit Dam Julyans Barnes in her boke of huntyng.”

Scholarly reviews as to the the sources of the Book of Saint Albans indicates that little in it was original. It is expressly stated at the end of the Blasynge of Armys that the section was “translated and compylyt,” and it is likely that the other treatises are translations, probably from the French. Only three perfect copies of the first edition are known to exist. A facsimile, entitled The Boke of St Albans, with an introduction by William Blades, appeared in 1881.

Animal Nouns of Assembly
Here’s my list. There will be others that didn’t make it to the list – what have I missed? The group names for bees surprised me.

  • Aardvark – a flock, an armory (or armoury)
  • Albatrosses – a rookery or a gam
  • Alligators – a congregation
  • Alpaca – a herd
  • Anteaters – a candle
  • Antelope – a herd, a cluster or a tribe
  • Ants – an army, a colony, a nest, a bike or a swarm
  • Apes – a shrewdness, a troop
  • Armadillos – a roll
  • Auks – a colony, a flock, a raft
  • Avocets -a colony
  • Baboons – a flange, a troop
  • Badgers – a cete, a colony
  • Barracudas – a school
  • Bats – a colony, cloud, flock or camp
  • Bears – a sleuth or sloth
  • Beavers – a family, a colony
  • Bees – a bike, a swarm, a cast, a cluster, a colony, a drift, an erst, a grist, hive, nest, rabble or a stand
  • Birds – a flock, a flight
  • Bison – a herd
  • Bitterns – a sedge, a siege
  • Boars – a herd, a sounder
  • Bobolinks – a chain
  • Boxers (Dogs) – a comedy
  • Buffalo – a herd, a troop, a gang or an obstinancy
  • Bullfinches – a bellowing
  • Bustards – a flock
  • Butterflies – a flight, a flutter, a rabble
  • Buzzards – a wake
  • Camels – a caravan, a flock, a herd, a train
  • Capons – a muse
  • Caterpillars – an army
  • Cats – a clowder, a glaring, a clowder, a cluster, a clutter, a pounce
  • Cattle – a herd, a drove, a yoke, a team
  • Cheetahs – a coalition
  • Chickens – a flock, a brood, a peep, a clutch
  • Chinchillas – a colony
  • Clams – a bed
  • Cobras – a quiver
  • Cockroaches – an intrusion
  • Cod – a school
  • Coots – a covert, a commotion, a cover, a fleet, a flock, a pod, a rasp, a swarm
  • Cormorants – a flight, a gulp
  • Coyotes – a pack
  • Crabs – a cast
  • Cranes – a herd, a sedge, a seige
  • Crocodiles – a bask, a congregation, a nest
  • Crows – a murder
  • Curlews – a head, a herd
  • Deer – a bunch, a herd, a mob, a rangale
  • Dinosaurs – a herd, a pack
  • Dogfish – a troop
  • Dogs – a pack (wild), a kennel, a mute, a litter (young)
  • Dolphins – a school, a pod, a herd, a team
  • Donkeys – a herd, a drove, a pace
  • Dotterels – a trip
  • Doves – an arc, a cote, a dole, a dule, a flight, a piteousness, a pitying
  • Dragonflies – a cluster, a flight
  • Ducks (or mallards) – a flock, a herd, a badling, a brace, a safe, a sord, a sore, a waddling, a bunch, a paddling, a raft, a skein, a string, a team
  • Dunlins – a fling
  • Eagles – a convocation
  • Eels – a bed, a swarm
  • Elephant seals – a pack
  • Elephants – a parade, a herd, a memory
  • Elk – a gang or a herd
  • Emus – a mob
  • Falcons – a cast
  • Ferrets – a business, a busyness
  • Finches – a charm
  • Fish – a school
  • Flamingos – a flamboyance or a stand
  • Flies – a business, a cloud, a swarm
  • Foxes – a skulk or leash
  • Frogs – an army
  • Gazelle – a herd
  • Geese – a gaggle, a flock, a plump, a skein, a team, a wedge
  • Gerbils – a horde
  • Giraffes – a journey, a tower, a herd, a corps
  • Gnats – a cloud, a horde, a rabble, a swarm
  • Gnus – a herd, an implausibility
  • Goats – a herd, a flock, a tribe, a trip, a trippe
  • Goldfinches – a charm
  • Goldfish – a troubling
  • Gorillas – a band, a troop, a whoop
  • Goshawks – a flight
  • Grasshoppers – a cloud, a swarm,
  • Grouse – a covey, a pack
  • Guillemots – a bazaar
  • Guinea fowl – a rasp, a flock
  • Guinea pigs – a herd
  • Gulls – a colony, a flock
  • Hampsters – a horde
  • Hares – a band, a down, a drove, a flick, a husk
  • Hawks – a cast, an aerie, a staff, a leash, a flight, a flock, a kettle, a boil, a cauldron, a mew, a screw, a stream
  • Hedgehogs – an array
  • Hens – a brood
  • Herons – a flight, a sedge, a sege, a siege
  • Herring – an army, a glean, a shoal
  • Hippopotami – a bloat, a herd, a thunder
  • Hornets – a bike, a nest, a swarm
  • Horses – a stable, a stud, a harras, a herd (wild horses), a band (wild horses), a team (workhorses), a rag (colts), a string (ponies)
  • Hounds – a cry
  • Hummingbirds – a charm
  • Hyenas – a cackle
  • Ibises – a colony
  • Iguanas – a mess
  • Jackals – a pack
  • Jaguars – a shadow, a leap a prowl
  • Jays – a band, a party, a scold
  • Jellyfish – a smack, a smuth, a fluther, a brood, a bloom
  • Kangaroos – a mob, court, troop, herd
  • Kittens – a litter or kindle
  • Lapwings – a deceit, a desert
  • Larks – an exaltation
  • Lemurs – a conspiracy
  • Leopards – a leap, a lepe
  • Lice – a colony
  • Linnets – a parcel
  • Lions – a pride, a sawt
  • Lizards – a lounge
  • Llamas – a herd, a flock
  • Lobsters – a risk
  • Locusts – a cloud, a host, a swarm
  • Mackeral – a shoal
  • Magpies – a flock
  • Mallards – a flush, a puddling
  • Mice – a colony, a nest
  • Minnows – a steam
  • Mole – a company, a labour
  • Mongoose – a troop, a committee, a delegation
  • Monkeys – a barrel, a troop
  • Moorhens – a plump
  • Moose – a herd
  • Mosquitoes – a swarm, a cloud
  • Mules – a pack
  • Nightingales – a flock
  • Octopus – a consortium
  • Ostriches – a flock, a troop
  • Otters – a family, a romp, a bevy, a raft
  • Owls – a parliament
  • Oxen – a team or yoke
  • Oysters – a bed
  • Panthers – a claw
  • Parrots – a pandemonium, a flock
  • Partridges – a covey
  • Peacocks – an ostentation
  • Pelicans – a pod
  • Penguins – a huddle, a rookery, a colony, a waddle (penguins on land), a raft (penguins in water)
  • Peregrines – a cadge
  • Pheasants – a flock, a bouquet, a nest, a nide, a nye
  • Pigeons – a flock, a flight, a kit, a passel
  • Pigs – a drift or drove (younger pigs), or a sounder or team (older pigs), a litter (piglets)
  • Pilchard – a school
  • Pintails – a knob
  • Plovers – a congregation, a band a flight, a leash, a stand, a wing
  • Polar bears – an aurora, a celebration, a pack
  • Porcupines – a prickle
  • Porpoises – a pod, a school, a shoal
  • Poultry – a run
  • Ptarmigans – a covey
  • Puppies – a litter
  • Quails – a bevy, a flock, a covey
  • Rabbits – a herd, a nest, a litter or a wrack (young rabbits)
  • Raccoons – a gaze, a nursery, a committee, a smack, a brace, a troop
  • Racehorses – a field
  • Rainbowfish – a party
  • Rats – a colony, a horde, a mischief
  • Rattlesnakes – a rhumba
  • Ravens – an unkindness
  • Red deer – a herd
  • Redwings – a crowd
  • Reindeer (Caribou) – a herd
  • Rhinoceros – a crash, a herd
  • Rooks – a building, a parliament
  • Ruffs – a hill
  • Salmon – a bind, a leap, a run salmon, a draught
  • Sandpipers – a fling
  • Sardines – a family
  • Sea lions – a pod
  • Seafowls – a cloud
  • Seagulls – a squabble
  • Seals – a herd, a pod, a rookery
  • Sharks – a shiver
  • Sheep – a flock, a fold, a herd
  • Skunk – a stench, a surfeit
  • Snails – an escargatoire, a rout, a walk
  • Snakes – a nest, a ball
  • Snipes – a walk, a wisp
  • Sparrows – a host, a quarrel, a tribe, a ubiquity
  • Spiders – a cluster, a clutter
  • Squirrels – a dray or scurry
  • Starlings – a chattering, a murmuration
  • Stingrays – a fever
  • Storks – a mustering, a flight a phalanx
  • Swallows – a flight, a gulp
  • Swans – a lamentation, a bevy or game (if in flight – a wedge), a herd, a bank, a drift, a squadron, a team, a whiteness, a whiting
  • Swifts – a flock
  • Teals – a spring, a bunch, a coil, a knob, a raft
  • Termites – a colony, a nest, a swarm
  • Thrushes – a mutation
  • Tigers – an ambush or streak
  • Toads – a knot
  • Turkeys – a gang or rafter
  • Turtledoves – a pitying
  • Turtles – a bale or nest
  • Vultures – a colony, a committee, a wake
  • Wallabies – a mob
  • Walruses – a huddle, a herd, a flock
  • Wasps – a swarm, a hive, a colony, a nest
  • Water buffalo – a herd
  • Waterfowls – a plump, a bunch, a knob, raft
  • Weasels – a colony, gang or pack or a sneak
  • Whales – a pod, school, or gam
  • Widgeons – a company. a bunch, a coil, a flight, a knob, a trip
  • Wild cats – a destruction
  • Wildfowls – a trip, a bunch, a knob, a lute, a skein
  • Wolves – a pack
  • Woodcocks – a fall, a covey, a flight, a plump
  • Woodpeckers – a descent
  • Wrens – a herd, a flock
  • Yaks – a herd
  • Zebras – a zeal, a hed, a cohort, a dazzle

Usage of Collective Nouns
In linguistics, a collective noun is a word referring to a collection of things taken as a whole. Most collective nouns in everyday speech are not specific to particular things. For example, the collective noun “group” can be applied to people (“a group of people”) or dogs (“a group of dogs”) or other things. Some collective nouns are specific to one kind of thing, especially terms of venery, which identify groups of specific animals (see my list earlier). For example, “pride” as a term of venery always refers to lions, never to dogs or cows. Other examples come from popular culture – such as a group of owls, which is called a “parliament”.[1]

Merriam-Webster writes that most terms of venery fell out of use in the 16th century, including a “murder” for crows. It goes on to say that some of the terms in The Book of Saint Albans were “rather fanciful”, explaining that the book extended collective nouns to people of specific professions, such as a “poverty” of pipers. It concludes that for lexicographers, many of these don’t satisfy criteria for entry by being “used consistently in running prose” without meriting explanation. Some terms that were listed as commonly used were “herd”, “flock”, “school”, and “swarm”.[2]

A few Collective Nouns for People
The word team is just one of the many examples of collective nouns for people who are in a group and acting as a single entity: [3]

  • audience of many
  • band of brothers
  • board of directors
  • cast of clowns
  • choir of singers
  • class of students
  • committee of experts
  • company of dancers
  • crowd of fans
  • department of finance
  • faculty of Sussex University
  • family of relatives
  • firm of solicitors
  • gang of bandits
  • group of fans

Collective nouns don’t all refer to groups of people or animals. Groups of things can also be referred to as a unit: [4]

  • batch of DVDs
  • bucket of water
  • bowl of cereal
  • box of chocolate
  • bevy of options
  • bunch of flowers
  • case of soda
  • cup of tea
  • deck of cards
  • galaxy of stars
  • gear for camping
  • harvest of vegetables
  • packet of salt
  • pile of rubbish
  • portfolio of investments
  • pot of stew
  • string of pearls
  • tub of water
  • vault of money

Perhaps the oddest collective noun that I’ve come across is A Sneer, a group of Butlers.[5]

Sources and Further Reading

Giraffe kindergarten
A Journey of Giraffes
Picture Credit: “Giraffe Kindergarten” by Focx Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. Source:
  2. See:
  3. Adapted from
  4. Ibid
  5. Found at:


Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: