Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Learning | Collective Nouns

I live near the water, so I often see flocks of geese in my neighborhood.  Flock is an example of a collective noun, which is a noun used to refer to a whole group of things. Think of a herd of cattle, or a pack of wolves. One of my favorite collective nouns is an embarrassment of riches. I think that's especially poetic.  

SSJCPL has a veritable plethora of books on English language collective nouns. Some of these books have been around quite a while, but I would like to draw your attention to a new one. It's a children's book called A Crackle of Crickets: A Compilation of Insect Collective Nouns.
Illustration from A Crackle of Crickets. Can you guess which collective noun this picture illustrates?
 Find the answer at the end of this post.

As I pondered the whole idea of collective nouns, I found myself asking a bunch of questions: If the plural of goose is geese, why isn't the plural of moose meese? I have always heard that moose is the plural for moose. Why isn't it meese? Or mooses? And what would Bullwinkle's Mr. Know-It-All think about this topic?
Bullwinkle. Photo courtesy of gamerscoreblog's photostream on Some rights reserved.

Well, you know me; I couldn't resist a chance to look up another word in the dictionary. In my search for an answer, I discovered that moose is the North American term for elk. This animal is the largest member of the deer family. The native Abnaki people of Maine and Southern Quebec had a term, mos, for this beast; that is believed to be the origin of the English word. 
Moose family, Berlin NH; courtesy northeast_naturalist's photostream on Some rights reserved.
The Latin name for these creatures is Alces alces americana.

I learned that moose is the most common plural of moose these days, but meese and mooses are acceptable older forms. I remain skeptical about that. I don't think I could get away with playing meese in a Scrabble game.  Plural moose are moose, just as plural deer are deer (not deers.) It has nothing to do with the goose/geese thing.

But if the plural of mouse is mice, what would the plural of mousse be? If only Mr. Know-It-All were here....

Moose mousse. Photo courtesy of Fraser Lewry's photostream on Some rights reserved.

Answer to the question about the top picture: a culture of bacteria. 


  1. And my favorite plural, a murder of crows.

  2. Not being a fan of birds, I've always thought a murder of crows was an appropriate collective term.