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Murder of Crows
Posted: 03 March 2007 06:42 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Groups of crows are called a murder.  Does anyone know where this came from?  Thanks!

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Posted: 03 March 2007 07:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here are some previous discussions:

Why “a murder of crows”?

A murder of crows

The OED says “[Origin uncertain; prob. the same word as MURDER n.1 (perh. alluding to the crow’s traditional association with violent death, or, as suggested in quot. 1939, to its harsh and raucous cry).] A flock (of crows).
One of many alleged group names found in late Middle English glossarial sources. App. revived in the 20th cent.”

First citation is from the 15th century.

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Posted: 04 March 2007 07:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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One of the pitfalls in lexical research is relying too much on dictionaries and glossaries and not enough on primary sources. Often, a term will be recorded in a glossary and then copied again and again over the years by other dictionaries, without any evidence that the term was ever widely used. You see this a lot with slang terms and murder of crows and other collective animal names are another case.

Many of the “fun” names for groups of animals, including murder, got their start in a handful of Middle English glossaries. They do not appear in any extant primary sources (literature, diaries, books on hunting, etc.) and were probably never commonly used. Copied from dictionary to dictionary over the years, they never appear to be actually used until the 20th century, when they were revived somewhat as “fun facts about language” and managed the occasional actual use by a real person. Even then, their use is very rare.

(Note that one of the older threads cited by Dr. T., the good doctor says that the OED doesn’t include this sense of murder. Since that thread was written, the OED has been updating the Ms and has included an entry for murder of crows, which Dr. T. cites above. Just want to make this clear for those reading the older threads and wondering how he could say it’s not in the OED in one place and then cite the OED in another.)

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Posted: 04 March 2007 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Looking at the old threads, I noticed that, unlike crows, some birds, eg duck, pheasant, woodcock can be referred to the same in the singular (one duck) as the plural (a brace of duck) but that the form ducks, pheasants etc is also used.  This seems also true of animals like antelope and bison, but not hoses or cows, of plants like trees, but not flowers.  Is there a dividing line in there somewhere, or is this just another example of the randomness of English?

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Posted: 04 March 2007 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The only person I’ve ever actually heard use “murder of crows” is Nick Cave in his song “The Carny”.

bayard, the unmarked plurals tend to reflect low individuation. That is, if you say “ducks” you are referring to a collection of individual ducks, but if you say “a brace of duck” you are referring to a quantity of duck, similar to “a pot of honey”. I think the dividing line would be a combination of semantics (what types of nouns typically appear in groups) and historical precedent (read: accident) as to which nouns we’re accustomed to using (and hearing) that way.

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Posted: 04 March 2007 08:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Copied from dictionary to dictionary over the years, they never appear to be actually used until the 20th century, when they were revived somewhat as “fun facts about language” and managed the occasional actual use by a real person.

An interesting illustration - deep down, we really do want English to retain its eccentricity.
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Posted: 04 March 2007 08:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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“The only person I’ve ever actually heard use “murder of crows” is Nick Cave in his song “The Carny”.

There is even a new straight-to-video Cuba Gooding Jr. movie titled “A Murder of Crows.”

The ones that people care about are the fanciful words that are vanishingly rare in actual use. An Exaltation of Larks is a prime example, promoted especially by James Lipton’s book of the same title.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 12:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Shame, bang goes my mental picture of C18th rustics talking about a “murder of crows” in thick Mummerset accents.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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James Lipton’s book of the same title

I used to love that book; then I started finding it increasingly silly and pointless, and finally gave my copy away (I think).

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Posted: 05 March 2007 01:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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bayard - 05 March 2007 12:33 AM

Shame, bang goes my mental picture of C18th rustics talking about a “murder of crows” in thick Mummerset accents.

Yes, shame, I always had a vision of a bunch of drunk 18thC academics making all the collective nouns up for a laugh! (Result of one of my English teachers I think.) Crows don’t tend to flock much do they?

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Posted: 05 March 2007 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Now that An Exaltation of Larks has been mentioned, I can’t resist linking to the thread in which we sought a term of venery for gannets.

Edit: I’ve just noticed that the link I provided in that thread, by way of explanation, is dead.  “An expurgation of gannets” is a reference to the famous Monty Python “Bookshop Sketch”, in which a difficult customer finally seems to be asking for an actual, existing book: Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds.  When the shop owner him that he has it, the customer asks: “Is it the expurgated version?”
Owner: (non-plussed at the idea of expurgating a bird book) “The expurgated version?!”
Customer: “The one without the gannet.”

[ Edited: 05 March 2007 02:02 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 25 May 2012 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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A Tarnation of Varmints

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Posted: 25 May 2012 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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flynn999 - 05 March 2007 01:49 PM

Crows don’t tend to flock much do they?

Sure they do.  They can become a nuisance, getting into grain, etc.  Most states have crow hunting seasons in an effort to control their population.  I’ve been on a few hunts, when I was younger, but never cared for it much.  It seems wasteful.

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Posted: 25 May 2012 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Yes, I was surprised by that question.  Crows are extremely social (as well as loud).

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Posted: 25 May 2012 07:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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funny-puns-smp-classic-attempted-murder2.png

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Posted: 25 May 2012 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Dr. Techie - 03 March 2007 07:38 PM

Here are some previous discussions:

Why “a murder of crows”?

A murder of crows

The OED says “[Origin uncertain; prob. the same word as MURDER n.1 (perh. alluding to the crow’s traditional association with violent death, or, as suggested in quot. 1939, to its harsh and raucous cry).] A flock (of crows).
One of many alleged group names found in late Middle English glossarial sources. App. revived in the 20th cent.”

First citation is from the 15th century.

That’s odd. Clicking the links above Firefox tells me:

The page isn’t redirecting properly.

Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.

Using the ezboard search engine to find the threads the urls resolve differently as:

http://wordoriginsorg.yuku.com/topic/1863/Why-a-quot-murder-of-crows-quot as opposed to Doc’s link http://p211.ezboard.com/fwordoriginsorgfrm4.showMessage?topicID=300.topic

http://wordoriginsorg.yuku.com/topic/3607/A-Murder-of-Crows as opposed to http://p211.ezboard.com/fwordoriginsorgfrm7.showNextMessage?topicID=36.topic

The yuku ones work fine for me but clearly others are having no problem with the original links. A quirk of my browser perhaps? But why are the links different?

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