New words for modern phenomena: a collaboration of collective nouns
Last week, we invited readers to suggest new words to boost the English language's dwindling supply of collective nouns. Michael McCarthy and James Dean introduce your best offerings
Saturday 16 June 2007
It's not often that a newspaper gets the chance to add 10 new expressions to the English language all in one go, but today's the day. The Independent is here putting forward 10 vivid new ways of describing groups of our citizenry, appropriate for the 21st century.
The inspiration comes from you the readers, in response to our collective noun competition, which we launched in last Saturday's paper. You might remember that after charting the progress of those fascinating verbal catch-alls long used for birds and other creatures, such as a charm of goldfinches or a murmuration of starlings, we asked you to apply the concept to people.
It's not a new idea. When English collective nouns were first dreamt up in the 15th century, originally for the hunting field, it was seen at once that they could also be applied with profit to humans, directly or ironically, in terms such as an eloquence of lawyers or an exaggeration of anglers.
We asked you to bring that up to date (with a bottle of champagne to be won by each of the 10 best examples), and the response was remarkable: when the competition closed on Wednesday we had received more than 700 entries, and thus more than 7,000 suggestions for ways of pigeonholing or stereotyping parts of the community (which is always fun, isn't it?).
We freely acknowledge that the 10 groups we chose - estate agents, actors, football managers, MPs, TV chefs, lawyers, stand-up comedians, bankers, 4x4 drivers and journalists - were ready targets. But they were just the job for bringing out the Independent readership's creative energy. Deep feelings - usually deeply hostile feelings, but leavened with humour - lay behind many of the coinings.
And what a change they show from their 15th-century counterparts! It is not anglers who are most associated with exaggeration any more - in 2007 that sin is firmly ascribed to estate agents. And an eloquence is unfortunately no longer the term that comes to mind when Independent readers think of lawyers as a group: a connivance or an extortion is much more likely to be on the tip of the tongue.
We have read all the suggestions, but because of their very great number we can publish only a tiny fraction - between 20 and 25 for each group - in addition to the winner in each case. We have also constructed a sentence showing how the winning collective noun looks when actively employed.
We hope we have included most of the best ones; if yours didn't make it, we are sorry. A number of the winning suggestions were made by more than one reader, and in those cases we have deemed the winner to be the earliest entry received.
A gazump of estate agents
As in: "A gazump of north London estate agents are getting together to lower their fees." (Winner: Sarah Glascott)
If estate agents feel they are unloved, this competition will unfortunately only confirm the feeling, as most of the suggestions we received represented them as out-and-out villains. An exaggeration of estate agents was very popular, but we didn't feel it tripped off the tongue quite as well as gazump, which several people suggested. (The winner was the first such suggestion received.) Others included: a smarm; a commission; a trickery; a hyperbole; an unctuousness; a bijou; a ripoff; a shadiness; a misrepresentation; a voracity; a deception; a slick; a slither; a nest; a euphemism; a snare; a rapacity; a thievery; a duplicity; a cahoot; an embellishment; an embroidery; a coven; a con.
A foppery of actors
As in: "Most of the Coen brothers' movies are dependent on the same small foppery of actors." (Winners: James and Michelle Hamilton-Scott)
The overwhelmingly popular choice was a luvvie of actors (or some version thereof: we also had a luvvy, a luvee, a luvie, a luvy and, a luvviness). Most entrants aimed at actors' alleged affectation, but the winner managed to combine that with the sense of a group. Others included: a flounce; a flaunt; a preen; a prompt; a dearboy; a darling; a daaaaarling; a mwah; a vanity; a look-at-me; a camp; a thesp; a swagger; a masquerade; an adoration; an affectation; an orgasm; a flamboyance; an applause; a wannabe; a ham; a Hamlet.
A heckle of stand-up comedians
As in: "The concert will also feature a heckle of stand-up comedians." (Winner: Richard Bamsey)
The richness of English is evident in the number of different words meaning "to laugh" and people made full use of them in seeking a collective for stand-ups. But really the essence of that lonely role in the club is the heckle and the response to it, and a great number of people suggested the winning term. A giggle of stand-up comedians was the next most popular. Others included: a titter; a snigger; a cackle; a chuckle; a chortle; a hoot; a guffaw; a belly-laugh; an innuendo; a stitch; a quip; a punnet; a patter; a pratfall; a fringe; a craic; an angst; an effrontery; a crudity; a cringe; a tedium (not everyone is an enthusiast, remember).
A gaffery of football managers
As in: "At the next World Cup, an international gaffery of football managers will be acting as media commentators." (Winner: Brian Forde)
This was a near-run thing, with the winner narrowly beating Hugh Fiske's brilliant a dungood of football managers (as in "The boy done good"), Gordon Edgar's a Motty, and the popular favourite, a bung. Others included: a sheepskin; a mullet; a nutmeg; a dugout; a bench; a pacing; a mumble; a strop; a cliché; a gripe; a whinge; a gesticulation; a rant; a sickening; a seizure; a grievance; a grump; a supergrumble; a huff; a Clough (as in Brian).
A tightwaderie of bankers
As in: "Skeffington-Slyme was a member of a closely-knit tightwaderie of bankers." (Winner: Rosemarie Rowley)
One of the most common suggestions was for a wunch (think about it), with the added suggestions of a right bunch of bankers, and for a rhyming slang of the same. On the whole people characterise bankers as hard-hearted and simply far too rich, and they resent paying bankers to look after their money. Their suggested collectives included: a charge; an overcharge; a surcharge; an interest; a cupidity; a grasping; a rapacity; an inflexibility; an avarice; a shylock; a scrooge; a leech; a ker-ching; a bonus; a coffer; a vault; a jeroboam; a treasury; a hoggery; and a skulduggery.
A jabber of journalists
As in: "Outside the Beckhams' hotel, a jabber of journalists had congregated."
(Winner: Dick Penfold)
People seem to have several preconceptions about journalists: that they are intrusive, that they make things up and that they are permanently drunk. The idea of reporters as knights in armour defending free speech does not, alas, loom large. A scoop of journalists was numerically the most popular collective, but the winner catches better something of the way journalists on a story behave in a group. Those who tried to win the fizz by flattery (as in Roger Jarman's a superb judgement of journalists) have failed. Other terms included: an intrusion; a snoop; a sensation; a distortion; a twist; a fabrication; a jaundice; a sanctimony; a jeering; a gutter; a gossip; a scribble; a scrabble; a birocracy; a wittering; a jostle; a sozzle; an intoxication; an intemperance; a distillery.
A waffle of MPs
As in: "'Newsnight' will be inviting a mixed waffle of MPs to debate the question." (Winner: David James)
Hypocrisy and windbaggery were the themes on which most people dilated: all those reports about politicians sinking ever lower in the public esteem are clearly on the mark. A spin of MPs was the favourite, but we felt that it lacked something and was not as instantly self-explanatory as waffle. Others include: a duplicity; a mendacity; a dishonesty; a corruption; a backhander; a blather; a bluster; a prevarication; an evasion; a sham; a fence; a gravy-train; an ambition; a mob; a babble; a prattle; a rookery; a circumlocution; a malady; a Machiavelli; a mullarkey.
A spoilbroth of TV chefs
As in: "The presence of a glamorous spoilbroth of TV chefs lent added interest to the party." (Winner: David Kay)
Surprising the number of people who delved back into the period before Ramsey and Oliver, and offered not only a Delia of TV chefs (from Delia Smith) and a Floyd (from Keith Floyd, the so-called galloping gourmet) but even a Fanny and a Cradock (from Fanny Cradock, the original TV chef, cooking on BBC1 between the 1950s and the mid-1970s). A drizzle of TV chefs was the most popular choice, but we thought it a little tame. Bad language was an influence. Others included: a compote; a consommé; a coddle; a concoction; a saucerie; a sizzle; a soupçon; a fricassee; a gutful; a garnish; a tranche; a hash; a perspiration; a stirring; an expletive; an effin; a tintinnabulation; a cochonerie; a mélange; a salmagundi; a millefeuille; a smorgasbord.
A guzzle of 4x4 drivers
As in: "The narrow road beside the school was entirely blocked by a guzzle of 4x4 drivers picking up their children." (Winner: Matthew Balmforth)
These are today's latest villains, and many people are keen to pigeonhole them as self-satisfied, inconsiderate, and environmental polluters in the extreme. The winning word, which was suggested by a considerable number of people, manages to combine punchy impact with a sense of profligate consumption. An arrogance of 4x4 drivers was the second most-popular term. Others included: a pollution; an emission; a carbonation; a choke; an annoyance; an infuriation; a belligerence; an indifference; a menace; a smog; a smugness; a self-justification; an aloof; an insolence; a bombast; an inconsideration; a burberry; a Chelsea (as in the tractor); a Clarkson (as in Jeremy); a school run (popular but a bit obvious).
A quibble of lawyers
As in: "Rupert is one of that select quibble of lawyers whose earnings top £5m per annum." (Winner: Paul Powney)
Lawyers lie somewhere between MPs and estate agents in public esteem, being seen as prolix, tricky and exploitative. Hamlet's complaint about "the law's delay" also clearly still echoes. A litigation of lawyers was popular and had the virtue of alliteration, but what are lawyers for if not to litigate? Ditto for brief. We felt quibble got to the heart of what people felt. Other legal collectives included: a shyst; a haggle; a wallet; a slick; a slither; a greed; a connivance; a disdain; a grabbit; an extortion; a fleece; a leech; a cunning; a thicket; a wriggle; a twist; an adroitness; a wealthiness; a loophole; an honesty (there's always room for irony).
A celebration of winners
Each of the 10 winners will receive a bottle of Berrys' United Kingdom Cuvée, Grand Cru, Mailly. Made exclusively from Grand Cru grapes, this exquisite champagne has a delicious rounded quality and is full of fruity, toasty richness. Available from "Wine Merchant of the Year" Berry Bros. & Rudd, chosen merchant of The Wine Club in association with The Independent. For further details, see: www.bbr.com or tel: 0870 900 4300
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