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Collective nouns

A flock of cockatoos flew overhead this morning, and I wondered if it/they had a specific collective name. I’ve heard of a ‘gaggle of geese’ and a ‘parliament of owls’ and a ‘murder of crows’, but what about these birds that screech and scream and blitzkrieg our neighbourhood trees? An ‘assault of cockatoos’? I suppose the genius in the word-choice, like gaggle and parliament, lies in capturing some insight into the nature and behaviour of the group that it is describing.

There are a number of collective nouns for that group of people called the Church. The one I like most is that one offered by the Apostles’ Creed – a ‘communion of saints’; and not only because it describes all believers as saints, but because it gives some insight into the reality and mystery and dynamic of their union. They not only hold to common values and ideals and doctrines, but they actually share with each other a common life.

I was interested to learn that some birds and animals have a number of collective nouns. For instance, a group of dolphins can be known as a school or a pod, and a group of elephants can be called a herd or a memory. So too the church. The collective noun communion is not exhaustive. Other nouns like fellowship and congregation are often used well. And perhaps this one might serve as a collective noun suitable for the age to come: a ‘glory of believers’.

DM 1st March 2021


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