Iran Daily - - Entertainment - By Kerry Me­d­ina*

o you know what those are called?” the sa­fari guide at Botswana’s Chobe Game Lodge queried while I watched a large group of hip­pos un­abashedly bathing in the wa­ters of the Zam­bezi River.

“A bloat of hip­pos!” he an­swered rhetor­i­cally with the grin of a man who knew this tid­bit of in­for­ma­tion would de­light his guests.

My smile matched his as I laughed at how apro­pos the word seemed at de­scrib­ing this mass of bulky beasts. ‘A bloat of hip­pos’ was a witty and whim­si­cal lin­guis­tic con­trast to the al­most Or­wellian ‘nest of vipers’ and ‘mur­der of crows’ that I had al­ways at­trib­uted to po­etic li­cense. But along came ‘a tower of gi­raffes’, ‘a con­fu­sion of wilde­beests’ and, re­posed con­tent­edly un­der the blaz­ing sub-sa­ha­ran sun, ‘a bask of crocodiles’, BBC wrote.

The sa­fari proved a sin­gu­lar travel ex­pe­ri­ence that stayed with me long af­ter I re­turned home. Of course, the oblig­a­tory wildlife pho­tos were shared with friends and fam­ily, in­clu­sive of clever cap­tions de­cry­ing their rel­e­vant an­i­mal group­ings.

But I still wanted to know if these col­lec­tive nouns were sim­ply a gim­mick em­ployed by sa­fari guides to en­gage their guests, or if they had ac­tual roots in the English lan­guage.

As it turns out, these scin­til­lat­ing nouns are nei­ther co­in­ci­dence nor mis­nomer, but rather the re­sult of cen­turies of lin­guis­tic evo­lu­tion.

Peo­ple have been com­ing up with terms to de­scribe an­i­mal group­ings for hun­dreds of years, but it wasn’t un­til The Book of St. Al­bans, writ­ten by Ju­liana Bern­ers, a 15th-cen­tury Bene­dic­tine pri­oress from Eng­land, that they were recorded ex­ten­sively.

Also known by the ti­tle ‘The Book of Hawk­ing, Hunt­ing and Blas­ing of Arms’, Bern­ers’ 1486 pub­li­ca­tion of this gen­tle­men’s cat­a­logue of wildlife and hunt­ing in­cluded 165 col­lec­tive nouns for an­i­mal species, and is said to make her one of the ear­li­est fe­male au­thors writ­ing in the English lan­guage.

Al­li­son Treese, a mas­ters stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Arkansas and au­thor of the the­ses ‘A Flou­rynge Aege: Trac­ing the Sacred and Sec­u­lar in The Book of St Al­bans’, be­lieves Bern­ers was likely of noble birth.

She ex­plained that be­cause Bern­ers re­ceived at­tri­bu­tion in a pub­lished work and be­cause of her in­ti­mate fa­mil­iar­ity with the sub­ject mat­ter, she likely came from a highly in­flu­en­tial fam­ily.

Ac­cord­ing to Treese, very lit­tle of Bern­ers’ an­i­mal glos­sary is orig­i­nal. She called it, “mostly trans­la­tions and adap­tions of other works, which is an older literary tra­di­tion”.

Treese, how­ever, con­cede that if any­thing can be de­duced about Bern­ers from her work, it’s that the woman had a sense of hu­mor.

In ad­di­tion to a num­ber of com­mon an­i­mal terms that are still in use, like ‘a swarm of bees’ and ‘a gag­gle of geese’, The Book of St. Al­bans also in­cludes group­ings for peo­ple. ‘A dis­guis­ing of tai­lors’, ‘a doc­trine of doc­tors’ and ‘a nev­er­thriv­ing of jug­glers’ likely served as the day’s com­men­tary on such pro­fes­sions.

“Since the en­tire list fell un­der the head­ing of ‘Beasts and Fowls’, it had to have been Bern­ers’ tonguein-cheek means of putting peo­ple in the same cat­e­gory,” Treese noted.

“Many of the group­ings are so satir­i­cal that she must have had a play­ful, hu­mor­ous at­ti­tude about this area of the work.”

The true ori­gin of many of the col­lec­tive an­i­mal nouns that ap­pear in Bern­ers’ com­pi­la­tion has been lost to time, and since the pub­li­ca­tion of The Book of St. Al­bans, the terms have con­tin­ued to evolve. ‘A shrewd­ness of apes’ and ‘a pride of li­ons’ — both of which ap­pear in The Book of St. Al­bans — are part of the ver­nac­u­lar in most An­glo­phone coun­tries.

New terms have since de­vel­oped, too, still with the in­tent to il­lus­trate a char­ac­ter­is­tic of the an­i­mal.

Michael Nagel, head guide at the Gond­wana Game Re­serve in South Africa, ex­plained, “A zeal of ze­bra is a term from back in the day, but to­day we’re more likely to use ‘a daz­zle of ze­bra’ in or­der to paint a pic­ture of the group.”

While The Book of St. Al­bans was a gen­tle­man’s ref­er­ence guide, Bern­ers penned parts of it as moth­erly ad­vice to ‘my dear sons’ and ‘my dear child’ from ‘your dame’. And to­day, the play­ful terms res­onate with chil­dren.

Flo­rance Kavios, a guide at Chobe Game Lodge, has found that teach­ing col­lec­tive an­i­mal nouns to her 12-year-old son has had a rip­ple ef­fect on youths in their lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“He’ll think they’re funny and teach them to his friends at school who then come home with him and try to test me to see if I know them all,” she ex­plained.

Nearly all traces of Bern­ers have been lost to his­tory, but her glos­sary of col­lec­tive an­i­mal nouns re­mains a charm­ing part of the English lan­guage.

Af­ter re­turn­ing from a morn­ing sa­fari, while I was fin­ish­ing lunch on the veranda of Chobe Game Lodge, I watched a troop of ba­boons flee from the kitchen with stolen con­tain­ers of freshly made short­bread.

De­spite their arm­fuls of sweet loot, the an­i­mals moved with the syn­chrony of a dance troupe, their long limbs quickly and grace­fully scal­ing the rafters of the veranda. Their young fol­lowed suit like skilled un­der­stud­ies.

Atop the roof, the les­son in bis­cuit theft was re­warded. The ba­boons sat non­cha­lantly, tak­ing in the views of the Zam­bezi and greed­ily shov­el­ing the not-so-hard-won booty into their mouths. They didn’t so much as pause to show def­er­ence to the cho­rus of kitchen staff an­grily shak­ing pots and pans at them from the ground below.

It seems a hasti­ness of cooks is no match for a troop of ba­boons.

*Kerry Me­d­ina is a free­lance writer

6. Type of goat, cat or rab­bit (6) 7. Shore­bird, re­lated to the sand­piper (6) 8. Ophid­ian (5) 9. Fe­male chick­ens (4) 10. Ter­res­trial gas­tro­pod mol­lusk (5) 11. Mon­goose-like viver­rine (7) 14. Arc­tic whale with long spi­ral tusk (7) 16. Slow-mov­ing ar­bo­real mam­mal (5) 18. Gull-like jaeger (4) 20. Rap­tors (5) 22. Small arthro­pod (6) 23. Large sauteed shrimp (6) Dr. Alice Splin­ter thought she was go­ing to see a pa­tient. Lit­tle did she know, she’d be see­ing her hus­band.

“It took a sec­ond for me to take it in. I hon­estly al­most passed out. My knees got a lit­tle weak, but I was so happy to see him I just tried to hug him and stand there and take in the mo­ment,” Alice told In­sid­eed­i­tion.com.

Joshua Splin­ter, a fam­ily physi­cian for the Texas Army Na­tional Guard re­serve, spent the last five months de­ployed in the Port of Africa.

Dur­ing that time, Alice moved the fam­ily to an­other town and fin­ished her res­i­dency.

“In the mean­time while I was there de­ployed ... she was re­ally just hold­ing ev­ery­thing to­gether while I was just out, you know, hav­ing fun.”

When Joshua found out he was com­ing home ear­lier than ex­pected, he knew he 1. South Amer­i­can ar­bo­real boa (8) 2. Ca­nines (4) 3. Long-tailed par­rot of Cen­tral and

South Amer­ica (5) 4. Ter­res­trial bur­row­ing ro­dent (6) 5. Small slen­der gull with forked tail (4) 7. Wood­land fly­catcher (6) 12. Grace­ful ru­mi­nant (8) 13. Le­porid mam­mal (6) 15. Sea mam­mals (6) 17. Showy growth of head feathers (5) 19. Type of pen­guin, sounds re­gal (4) 21. Male deer (4) had to do some­thing spe­cial.

With the help of a friend, he planned to show up at Alice’s job.

To keep the jig up, he fibbed about where he was by pre­tend­ing he was still in a dif­fer­ent time zone.

“I’m talk­ing to her on the phone and I’m hav­ing to say, ‘Al­right, I have to go to bed’, but re­ally it’s the same time. Oth­er­wise, this is all go­ing to give it away,” Joshua ad­mit­ted.

Even though he is not sched­uled to be de­ployed in the near fu­ture, the ques­tion now is — can Joshua outdo him­self next time around?

“No, this was a great sur­prise, I’m happy to have him home,” Alice said with a laugh.

A ‘bloat of hip­pos’ seems an apt way to de­scribe the bulky beasts. GRA­HAM PRENTICE/ALAMY

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