Collective Nouns

Words used to describe groups of things.

Credit Marjaree Mason Center – CC-BY-SA

Here are the ten most viewed posts of 2017, not including permanent site components such as the home page, Downloads, Welcome, etc. Once again it seems I’ve become the Internet gateway for people wondering about spanking their wives.

1. Spanking for Love

What is it with spanking? This post has just over twice as many views as the second one.

2. Bipedal – The Savanna Theory

The interest in this continues. It spikes at the same times each year. School assignments?

3. Ants in the Devil’s Garden

After a big drop-off from #2, people seem to love these orchardist ants.

4. Bipedal – The Aquatic Ape Theory

The curve flattens from here on down. This one is probably spillover from #2.

5. Altocumulus Castellanus

The only Cloud of the Day in the top ten. That surprises me. And I wonder why this one in particular.

6. Collective Nouns

A perennial favorite, and a favorite of mine. Murders and murmurations.

7. Most Unpleasant Sounds

This one also surprises me. A quirky little list.

8. 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just point them at this and not have to deal with them over and over?

9. Milankovitch Cycles – Obliquity

The only top ten post that I actually wrote this year. Part of a demanding series.

10. Microsculpture – The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss

Oh, good. I’m glad the list includes a tribute to beauty and hard work.

So, that was 2017. What are the odds that spanking will be again in 2018?


Credit - Ltikorea CC-BY-SA

Credit – Ltikorea CC-BY-SA

Leaving out the home, contact, downloads and welcome pages, these posts are the best of 2014 by visit.

14. Near Death Experience – Part Three
What happened to parts One and Two? How does the third one outrank the others?

13. Flesch Reading Ease
This surprises me. Why is there so much interest in a method for rating how easy it is to read text?

12. Yawning
Of things our bodies do, including Synesthesia, Smell (1, 2 & 3), Earworms and Handedness, yawning is the most popular.

11. Ball Lightning – Part Three
Again part three is first.

10. Ball Lightning
And it appears readers jumped right over Part Two to read these.

9. BitTorrent Bundles
Good. I’m glad people are interested in my BitTorrent Bundle. No idea how this fits in with the rest, though.

8. Gecko Feet
I’m glad to see this. I have a soft spot for these little guys.

7. Altocumulus Castellanus
This is the only entry from the Cloud of the Day series. Maybe because it sounds so grand?

6. Collective Nouns
I like this series. It’s a lot of fun. Even Part Two.

5. Aquatic Ape – The Theory Evolves
The Bipedal series did well, taking three of the top five spots.

4. Whispering Galleries
This is no surprise. There’s something intrinsically interesting about whispering galleries.

3. Spanking for Love
This is no surprise either. Humans, eh?

2. Bipedal – The Aquatic Ape Theory
The Aquatic Ape is popular, but the Savanna Ape is even more so.

1. Bipedal – The Savanna Theory
This post got more than twice the number of views of the two Aquatic Ape posts combined.

That’s what you were looking at in 2014. Thank you for your interest, and thank you for keeping it interesting for me. Without you, it could be a pretty bleak job maintaining Green Comet’s home on the Internet. You encourage me to carry on, both with this site and with the sequel to the novel, which should be ready in the middle of 2015.

That was the best of 2014. See you in the new year.


Photo credit - SteveMcN - cc-by-nc-nd

Photo credit – SteveMcN – cc-by-nc-nd

In my posts on collective nouns, parts one and two, I had many examples for birds and humans and other animals. Even plants were represented. I could have gone on and on, listing existing collective nouns and inventing my own, but I stopped myself. I wanted the posts to be brief, both to prevent boredom and to encourage readers to explore further. Naturally, this meant that many good examples were left out. This post is about one of those.

Photo credit - adam - cc-by

Photo credit – adam – cc-by

Starlings have numerous collective nouns attached to them, including a chattering, a clattering, a cloud and a congregation, but the one I favor is a murmuration. When starlings are flocking and swooping around in the sky, that’s murmuration.

Photo credit - vytauto - public domain

Photo credit – vytauto – public domain

How do all the birds in a murmuration maintain such coordinated flight? They keep it simple: avoid collisions. Each bird keeps a minimum distance, on the scale of its wingspan, from its immediate neighbors. Analysis of high-speed video reveals that each bird keeps track of six or seven others. Why do they do it? The practical purpose is to evade and confuse predators, such as falcons. But when they’re doing it just before roosting for the night, I think they’re doing it for fun. Starlings are highly social birds. Activities like murmuration can contribute to social bonding.

Photo credit - don macauley - cc-by-sa

Photo credit – don macauley – cc-by-sa

Here’s a nice video of murmuration. Here’s another, with narration. Listen to them murmur.

Update: Wildlife photographer Albert Keshet has captured a remarkable momentary image of a flock of birds forming the shape of a spoon with a heap of sugar.

Credit Albert Keshet

See more photos and videos in this BBC article about it.

Another murmuration that looks like something, this one by James Crombie.

© James Crombie


Parliament of Owls
See also part one.

Since the practice of inventing names for groups of animals was started by educated English hunting gentlemen in the fifteenth century, the English language has been blessed with a growing collection of collective nouns. Any animal you can think of probably has a word for a group of them, and if it doesn’t then you’re allowed to invent one. If you want, you can invent a new one even if there already is one. Say you’re not satisfied with a pride of lions, then you can make up your own. Call them a lounge of lions when they’re lying around, for instance. Continue Reading

Pride of Lions
See also part two.

Birds have long held a special place in the imagination of humans. How many of us have seen birds in flight and never wondered what it would be like to fly? We associate flight, and therefore birds, with freedom. Flying free. Free as a bird.

We use birds to describe character traits in our fellow humans. Someone might be an odd bird or a funny duck, a chicken or a pigeon. If someone is aggressive we might call them a hawk, if they’re conciliatory, a dove. It should come as no surprise that we also use human-centered language when talking about birds. Continue Reading