A challenge for the region’s scribble of writers

“You sure talk a lot,” a student in a front desk informed me once. I might have blushed; I hope I laughed. It wasn’t a malicious comment, at least as I perceived it, merely an observation of a peculiarity of his experience. The youth next to him agreed with him, but then added that he first should hear another teacher of their acquaintance if he really wanted to experience pedagogical prolixity.

“Prolixity!” “Pedagogical!” What’s with all the ten dollar words, a reader might ask.

The fact is, our language, the currency of so much human interaction, is amazingly rich in its possibilities for expression, so rich that it’s easy to be seduced by the joys of its use.

Some experts argue that English has the largest vocabulary of any known language, though how anyone would go about proving that is something of a mystery. Given the wide variety of languages and their various idiosyncrasies, comparisons of this sort are largely meaningless. Some sources claim that English has upwards of a million words. The Oxford English Dictionary, long held to be a standard for authoritative facts about English vocabulary, has in the neighborhood of 200,000 entries, depending on how one counts words containing prefixes and suffixes, for example.

Most adult speakers of English use a functional vocabulary of about 20,000 words (only about 10 per cent of those available!), and in everyday speech and common writing only about 3,000 make up the vast majority. (Considering that Shakespeare invented about 1,500 words on his own that have become regular expressions, 3,000 is a trivial number.)

Our language (and doubtless others, as well) offers wonderful opportunities for creativity and play. Wikipedia lists nearly 80 word and language games, from crosswords, Scrabble and Hangman (letter arrangement games) to games of meaning such as puns and spoonerisms, and even television games like Wheel of Fortune.

A particularly amusing aspect of English has been the ongoing generation of novel collective nouns, that is, nouns that represent a group of more or less identical objects, or objects in a class. An example would be ‘team,’ for example, understood to be a group of individuals united toward a common purpose.

Many of these were coined to fit the peculiar characteristics of animal groups. For example, we have a litter of pups, a flock of sheep, a swarm of bees, and so on. These are common and well-known, generally understood and used by the vast majority of the population.

Others are more obscure. Consider a string of ponies, a plague of locusts, or even a passel of brats! We have a sloth of bears (doubtless related to their hibernation) and a skulk of foxes, a peep of chickens (the sound of the chicks?) and a hover of trout, doubtless chased by a drift of fishermen. Birds, in all their variety, provide an ostentation of peacocks (those show-offs!) and a tiding of magpies, a host of sparrows and an unkindness of ravens, rounded off by a murmuration of starlings and a parliament of owls.

We humans don’t escape. We’re often categorized by occupation. How about a draught of bottlers, an eloquence of lawyers, an example of schoolmasters, or an illusion of painters? We’ve been given a trance of lovers and a trip of hippies, a flush of plumbers and a wince of dentists, a wrangle of philosophers and an indifference of waiters.

How might such a mysterious and playful process of invention be applied to Terrace and its environs?

Consider the city and regional district, each with its clamour of councillors. Or on November 11 at the cenotaph, a majesty of mounties or a drill of cadets? Perhaps for travellers we might enjoy an aggravation of airlines and a hospitality of hotels? In Christy Park, we endure a thump of soccer players and, along my street, a yowl of dogs. Our omnipresent pickup trucks are a flatulence of 4×4’s.

Here we are, contributing to the Terrace Standard: a scribble of writers!

You, too, might coin a new collective noun! Language belongs to the people who make it––people like Shakespeare, or like you and me. Join the fun!

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rio Tinto responds to U.S. aluminum import tariffs

The tariffs were imposed by President Donald Trump Aug. 6

Black bear spotted at Christy Park in Terrace

Bear could be the same individual spotted on the bench recently

Coastal GasLink breaks ground on meter station in Kitimat

Meter station marks final point on pipeline that stretches from Northeast B.C.

Signs of the times: Terrace sign makers’ businesses evolve during COVID-19 pandemic

Scaife Signs and Silvertip Promotions & Signs Inc. created COVID-19 related materials in Terrace

New statue placed at George Little Park in Terrace

Kermode bear cub to commemorate Terrace Kinsmen’s contribution to the park’s renovations

Canada to match donations to Lebanon relief

Canada is directing all of its aid for this crisis directly to humanitarian organizations, not the Lebanese government

Bear put down after being found on Vancouver Island kitchen counter

Bear trapped and killed near Ucluelet after repeated instances of entering sheds and homes

Who can dismiss the Governor General? A look at protocols and possibilities

The Governor General is appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister

Second phase of NHL draft lottery set for Monday

Each club eliminated from qualifying round has a 12.5 per cent shot at the No. 1 pick

University of Victoria, rowing coach sued over alleged ‘fat shaming’ and verbal abuse

Lawsuit says Barney Williams subjected coxswain Lily Copeland to offensive and belittling language

1 year since a B.C. teen died in a skate park, his family still waiting for charges

Carson Crimeni’s final moments were broadcast on social media

NHL playoffs: Canucks to meet St. Louis Blues in Round 1

Vancouver takes on defending champs beginning Wednesday

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Most Read