Category Archives: Quizzes

BBC English: a flawed quiz?


The BBC’s News Magazine posted a grammar quiz today – supposedly to test how much we know “about apostrophes, semi-colons and dangling participles”. At least one of the questions seems to contain a fatal flaw, as far as I can tell. (And I don’t think I’m just trying to find an excuse for scoring only 9 out of 10 on the quiz.) See if you can guess which one I’m talking about, and why.

Answer and explanation here at Glossophilia tomorrow.


A flock of nouns of multitude

The answer to my previous post, “A singular quiz”, is that they’re all collective nouns, or nouns of multitude, and specifically terms of venery.

We’re familiar with the phrases “a flock of sheep” and “a pride of lions”, and similar collective nouns specific to certain groups or types of people, such as a “company of actors”, a “troupe of dancers”, a “class of students”, a “platoon of soldiers”, an “orchestra of musicians”, and even a “bevy of beauties”. The terms of venery — such words that refer to animals — can be especially poetic and descriptive, and below is Wikipedia’s explanation for their fascinating collective history and etymology (along with a list of my personal and most poetic favorites, which is by no means exhaustive). Also below is a list of my favorite flavory collective nouns used to describe certain professions or subsets of society, two of which need to be singled out for special attention: a “conjunction of grammarians” and a “shrivel of critics”. Whoever dreamed up those particular terms of venery must be the very epitome of style and wit. As a matter of fact, we do know the author of at least one of them, as explained in the next paragraph. It’s noted in Wiki’s explanation that these terms, even when they were first coined, never really had any practical application: they were “intended as a mark of erudition of the gentlemen able to use them correctly rather than for practical communication.” How lucky for all writers and poets (and even for us readers) that they persist in our lexicon today — some of them surprisingly so. The fact that a “gaggle” is still used to describe not just a flock of geese but also a collection of women (usually of the giggling or talkative kind) is interesting in these days of post-feminism and political correctness; this term was one of the many deliberately humorous words listed in the Book of Saint Albans, published in 1486.

James Lipton, best known to us as the creator and host of the American TV show Inside the Actors Studio, is — among many other things — a great lover of words. (Indeed, one of his favorite moments of his show — and definitely one of mine — is when he asks his actor subjects for mostly single-word answers to his questionnaire: favorite curse word? favorite and least favorite sounds? etc.) Lipton has a special interest in collective nouns, and he has published a definitive, best-selling book on the subject: An Exaltation of Larks (1968). Lipton has even invented some of his own nouns of multitude, including a “score of bachelors”, an “unction of undertakers”, a “shrivel of critics” (it had to come from an actor or some kind of performing artist), and a “queue of actors”.

Let’s not bore ourselves here (except to single out the lovely expression “a singular of boars”) with the questions and complexities of which verb forms (singular or plural) should be used with these collective nouns. Suffice to say the Brits and the Yanks diverge in their usage: in British English, collective nouns can take either singular or plural verb forms, depending on the context and something called the “implied metonymic shift”. It is perfectly acceptable in England to say “the class have finished their homework” (especially if all the students in the class had the same homework). However, in American English, collective nouns take singular verb forms: “the class has finished its homework”. This matter was discussed in an earlier Glossophilia blog post:

Some of my favorite nouns of assembly (for professions or groups of people):

– A tabernacle of bakers
– A shuffle of bureaucrats
– A hastiness of cooks
– A shrivel of critics
– A decanter of deans
– An obstruction of dons
– A galaxy of governesses
– A conjunction of grammarians
– A melody of harpists
– An observance of hermits
– A neverthriving of jugglers
– A superfluity of nuns
– A scolding of seamstresses
– A disguising of tailors
– A prudence of vicars
– An ambush of widows

Some of my favorite terms of venery:

– A shrewdness of apes
– A pace of asses
– A cete of badgers
– A sloth or sleuth of bears
– A singular of boars
– An obstinacy of buffalo
– A clowder or pounce of cats
– An intrusion of cockroaches
– A rag of colts
– A murder of crows
– A cowardice of curs
– A pitying of doves
– A business of ferrets
– A charm of finches
– A leash or skulk of fox
– A tower of giraffes
– An implausibility of gnus
– A trip of goats
– A down or husk of hares
– A bloat of hippopotamuses
– A cry or mute of hounds
– A cackle of hyenas
– An intrigue of kittens
– A deceit of lapwings
– An exaltation of larks
– A leap of leopards
– A pride of lions
– A labor of moles
– A span or barren of mules
– A richness of martens
– A romp of otters
– A parliament of owls
– An aurora of polar bears
– A prickle of porcupines
– An unkindness of ravens
– A crash of rhinoceroses
– A shiver of sharks
– A scurry of squirrels
– An affliction of starlings
– A streak of tigers
– A knot of toads
– A gam of whales
– A business of weasels


Wikipedia on the history of nouns of assembly:

The tradition of using “terms of venery” or “nouns of assembly” — collective nouns that are specific to certain kinds of animals — stems from an English hunting tradition of the late Middle Ages. The fashion of a consciously developed hunting language came to England from France. It is marked by an extensive proliferation of specialist vocabulary, applying different names to the same feature in different animals. These elements can be shown to have already been part of French and English hunting terminology by the beginning of the 14th century. In the course of the 14th century, it became a courtly fashion to extend the vocabulary, and by the 15th century, this tendency had reached exaggerated proportions. The Venerie of Twiti (early 14th century) distinguished three types of droppings of animals, and three different terms for herds of animals. Gaston Phoebus (14th c.) had five terms for droppings of animals, which were extended to seven in the Master of the Game (early 15th century). The focus on collective terms for groups of animals emerges in the later 15th century. Thus, a list of collective nouns in Egerton MS 1995, dated to ca. 1452 under the heading of termis of venery &c. extends to 70 items, and the list in the Book of Saint Albans (1486) runs to 165 items, many of which, even though introduced by the compaynys of beestys and fowlys, do not relate to venery but to human groups and professions and are clearly humorous. (a Doctryne of doctoris, a Sentence of Juges, a Fightyng of beggers, an uncredibilite of Cocoldis, a Melody of harpers, a Gagle of women, a Disworship of Scottis etc.)

The Book of Saint Albans became very popular during the 16th century and was reprinted frequently. Gervase Markham edited and commented on the list in his The Gentleman’s Academic in 1595. The book’s popularity had the effect of perpetuating many of these terms as part of the Standard English lexicon, even though they have long ceased to have any practical application. Even in their original context of medieval venery, the terms were of the nature of kennings, intended as a mark of erudition of the gentlemen able to use them correctly rather than for practical communication.The popularity of these terms in the early modern and modern period has resulted in the addition of numerous light-hearted, humorous or “facetious” collective nouns.

Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office (WSJ)

Published today in the Wall Street Journal.

This Embarrasses You and I*

“When Caren Berg told colleagues at a recent staff meeting, “There’s new people you should meet,” her boss Don Silver broke in, says Ms. Berg, a senior vice president at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., marketing and crisis-communications company. “I cringe every time I hear” people misuse “is” for “are,” Mr. Silver says. The company’s chief operations officer, Mr. Silver also hammers interns to stop peppering sentences with “like.” For years, he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each offense. “I am losing the battle,” he says.

“Employers say the grammar skills of people they hire are getting worse, a recent survey shows. But language is evolving so fast that old rules of usage are eroding. Sue Shellenbarger has details on Lunch Break.”


How’s Your Grammar?

Take a quiz to test your skills.



She’s fly; it’s sick; they’re H: r u lost?

Can’t work out what your teen means?  Take Good Housekeeping‘s teen slang test, and get down with the lingo. And no Angus Deaton! (Wrong slang, but I felt like using it.)

(To get the answers, you’ll need to take the test at Good Housekeeping‘s site at the link above.)

Test Your Teen Slang

What’s harder than getting your teen to communicate with you grunt-, shrug- and eye-roll-free? Trying to make sense of their ever-changing vocabulary, of course. If you’re feeling lost in translation, take our teen slang test, and bone up on all of the latest lingo.

By Jennifer Saltiel, LMSW

Page 1 of 2

1. When you ask your daughter if she likes the new chicken dish you baked for dinner, she replies, “It’s sick!” This means:
She doesn’t like it one bit
The food is making her feel nauseous.
She thinks the dish is delicious.
2. Your daughter calls you on her cell phone and asks, “Can I make a requestion?” This means:
She meant to say, “Can I ask you a question?”
She probably said “Can I make a request?” but since the cell phone connection wasn’t clear, you thought you heard “requestion.”
She is combining the words request and question to ask both at the same time.
3. Which of the following words does not mean wonderful or awesome?
4. Your daughter sends you an email fuming about her teacher’s unfairness. She begins her litany of complaints with “OMG!” What do the three letters stand for?
On my grave
Oh my god (or gosh)
One more gripe
5. While driving your son and his friends to baseball practice, you overhear his buddy ask what your son thinks of the new girl at school. When he replies, “She’s fly,” you interpret this as:
She’s irrelevant to him. He’s not impressed.
He thinks she is cool
He finds her ditsy, like her head is in the clouds.
6. An individual who has a pessimistic attitude and is constantly talking about his or her friends is a:
7. An angst-filled teenager who dresses in black; wears thick-rimmed glasses; and listens to alternative music about life’s heartbreak and miseries would be described as:
8. You pick your son up from school on a snowy day. He’s waiting for you outside with his friend, Brian. When you ask how he’s doing, Brian says, “I’m chillin’.” What he’s trying to tell you is:
It’s so cold, his fingers have turned to ice
He feels stressed and frazzled
“Life is good. I’m relaxing.”
9. Your son and his friend, Mark, are checking out a new CD. When Mark asks what the music is like, your son replies that the lyrics are pretty “H”. What does this mean?
Hardcore – the words are an intense experience.
Hilarious – they’re cracking him up.
Horrible – could they have written anything lamer?
10. Your daughter’s best friend, Jane, does not show up at the mall to meet her, like they had planned. When your daughter calls Jane to ask her where she is, Jane replies, “My B.” This means:
That’s my business, not yours.
My boyfriend needed me.
My bad — totally my fault.
11. Your son and his friend are shooting hoops in your driveway. When you ask if he’d like to stay for dinner, your son’s friend says, “I’ve gotta bounce.” What does he have to do?
Run it by his parents
Finish the game
Get going

12. You see an instant message between your daughter and her friend Jill on the computer (No, you weren’t spying; you were just trying to check your email). It reads:

Dana: Hey Jill, Sup?
Jill: Chillin’
Dana: Me too, but I’ve g2g now.
Jill: Lol! That was fast. Ttyl.
Dana: l8tr.

How much of this correspondence do you understand?

Some of it. But none of the initials.
All of it.
You lost me at “Hey Jill”