animal grammar

If a group of crows is a murder, what is it called if you kill one? Come to think of it, why is a group of fish a school, a group of elephants a herd and a bunch of lions a pride? What about a group of people? Unsurprisingly, there is already a web site on this very topic. The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center has an extensive list of animal congregation names.

On a slightly related topic, why do some animal names have an ‘s’ to make it plural and some don’t? You have the no ‘s’ animals, like moose, deer, buffalo, sheep, and swine. Then you have the ‘s’ animals, like pigs, dogs, cats, hamsters, gorillas and lemurs. The American Heritage book of English Usage has a short discussion about plural animal names, but it doesn’t explain why.

It’s questions like these that keep me awake at night.


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  1. Apparently the band Flock of Seagulls should have been called Colony of Seagulls. Ornithologists must be freaks to have come up with that many different names for groups of birds. I will continue to call groups of birds ‘flocks’ or ‘bunches’ or whatever I feel like at the moment. Those names are just silly.

    Comment by Levi on March 26, 2003 @ 12:01 pm
  2. Ever notice how some meats have different names than the animal they came from? Ever notice how that’s just about never the case in other languages? Here’s why..

    While the Normans occupied England, they kept the English pretty much poor and opressed, while they lived the good life. The poor for the most part could not afford fancy meats and such and had to subside on bread and other cheap stuff. To make money though, most resorted to farming, including livestock.

    Thus…while the English were farming it, it was a pig. But when they killed it and served it up for a norman to eat, it became pork (porc is the french word for pig). Same with cow / beef; calf / veal, etc. etc.

    Comment by sean on March 27, 2003 @ 7:57 am
  3. Thanks for the info sean.

    Now I’m curious about the etymology of other pig meat, like ham and bacon.

    Comment by dan on March 27, 2003 @ 9:22 am
  4. If I say, they have a dog WHO requires assistance outside to potty, is that correct, or is it WHICH requires…(for a legal contract for assisted living help). Thanks!

    Comment by Midge on February 1, 2010 @ 12:58 am
  5. @Midge: I would say, “they have a dog that requires assistance…” since I use who to refer to people.

    Comment by Dan on February 1, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

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