## Thursday, February 17, 2011

### When is one not one? Part IV

This blog is about elementary school math. We talk about how math is taught to kids (via our Excel Math curriculum), and how people use math when they grow up. This week we've been looking at the peculiar way the English language complicates our understanding of numbers.

Specifically - the concepts of singularity and plurality.

Today I'd like to introduce another concept in the subject of collective nouns - terms of venery. You may never have heard this technical term, but you know what I am talking about. It means words used to describe groups of animals.

Here are some examples:
• a colony of ants
• a troup of apes
• a hive (swarm) of bees
• a flock of birds
• a herd of cattle
• a pod (school) of dolphin
• a swarm of flies
• a school (shoal) of fish
• a cloud of gnats
• a pride of lions
• a nest of vipers
• a pack of wolves
• a can of worms
The same sorts of singular terms can be used for plurality of plants:
• a hill of beans
• a bunch (cluster) of grapes
• a bouquet of flowers (when picked)
• a patch of flowers (when growing)
• a grove of trees (thicket, stand)
• a sheaf of wheat (sheaves)

The list I've provided just scratches the surface. If you like this sort of thing, you can research the subject and find dozens more obscure terms generated by folks just for the sake of making a list of terms of venery.

Today's ridiculous complication: A gaggle is what you call a group of geese in the water, but a skein is what you call them when they are flying.

Here's a slight diversion in our search for singular and plural complexity - a collective form called nosism (or the Royal We). It's when you refer to yourself in the second person. Rather than saying "I am not happy" you would say "We are not pleased."

A variation of this is the Patronizing We, expressed by servers at a restaurant who include themselves in your group by asking "Are we ready to order yet?" or by doctors who ask "How are we feeling today?"

Finally, I will finish off with an example of the Editorial We:

Are we having fun with singularity and plurality yet?