Wonderful Words


I was thumbing through my worn Roget’s ‘Thesaurus’ book, looking for a better word than ‘group’ to describe multiples of ecologists or nature conservationists. I could not find a satisfactorily evocative word, even in the small-printed paragraph of ‘Some Less Common Group Nouns’.

Despite the minute print size, this paragraph took my attention away from the task of writing, with its expressive words like ‘muster‘ and ‘sounder‘.

I understand ‘murmuration‘, which describes an enormous flock of starlings swirling in fast, ever-moving patterns in the sky as the birds gather before roosting. Murmurations have been in the natural history news recently because so many people have observed, wondered at and  photographed these amazing phenomena in Britain.

In pre-intensive farming days I remember how disturbance would cause a  large ‘covey‘ of a dozen or more grey partridges to rise from a cereal field or its headland and clatter away in a close group. On warm southern days at a woodland apiary I was probably stroking off a ‘grist‘ of bees which had meandered out of a hive and landed on my arm. But a ‘swarm‘ of bees was much more interesting: collecting swarms could be precarious. I  might have to climb into a damson tree or up to the roofless summit of a house being demolished on an old airfield.

As a primary pupil in Caernarfonshire, I spent a frightening hour one cold afternoon trying to find my way, without being stung, through a ‘smack‘ of stranded jellyfish seemingly spread all over the soft mud of Bangor beach. Smack was a word I knew  as punishment from angry parents, although  the jellyfish have remained a more potent memory.

The aged, spinster teachers in my next primary school on the edge of Bristol, probably delighted to hear an ‘exaltation‘ of larks in spring but were unlikely ever to have had a ‘fesnying‘ of ferrets running up their sleeves or a ‘walk‘ of snipe dashing up from under their feet! They hopefully enjoyed a ‘kindle‘ of kittens cuddling on their laps during tough lives where women considerably outnumbered men after the battle losses of the First World War.

My young dog unfortunately still chases a ‘gaggle‘ of my friend’s geese across their pasture! Thankfully – she cannot reach a ‘skein‘ of geese when they fly in formation across the sky.

After thinking back to my experiences with jellyfish and bees, I was still at a loss to name a group of ecologists or conservationists. However, my word for a large area of closely-packed, newly-built, houses is a ‘plonk‘. They seem to be ‘plonked’ down on ground where the living soil has been translocated, the soil residents made homeless, and food production on that site denied. In Scotland these housing clones are usually built of both home-grown and imported timber, cut at high speed from conifer trunks by sophisticated, computer-operated sawmills – to the exact sizes and shapes required to assemble into exactly the same floor cassettes, walls and roof trusses for every house in a plonk. Efficiency and speed of production should delight governments as well as potential buyers.

How about an ‘enliven‘ of ecologists and a ‘confirmation ‘ of conservationists?


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