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An Exaltation of Larks (1968)
by James Lipton
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An Exaltation of Larks is “the ultimate edition” as it claims, of terms of venery, or as perhaps more commonly known, collective nouns. Many people know a “pride of lions” or a “murder of crows” but there are hundreds of such terms, and most of them have been used since the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, they are not used so much anymore, which is a shame, because they are such fun. And while many of them refer to groups of animals, that is not their only use. Clever descriptions of groups of people include “a wince of dentists,” “a pack of smokers” and “a stud of poker players.” As Lipton points out, origins of terms of venery can be divided into six “families” which he lists as:
Onomatopoeia (example: a gaggle of geese)
Characteristic (example: a leap of leopards)
Appearance (example: a knot of toads)
Habitat (example: a shoal of bass)
Comment (example: a richness of martens)
Error (i.e., an incorrect transcription preserved in corrupted form) (example: a school of fish, originally “shoal”)
It is an endlessly entertaining subject (to me, at any rate), and Lipton has done an admirable job not only listing the terms, but reporting on the derivation when he knows it, and including humorous illustrations and a detailed index. His chapters are divided into subject matters such as “Sports,” “Music” “Religion” “Politics & Law” and so on.
Evaluation: This delightful book is a wonderful reference to have on hand. If you’re looking for a wonderful and memorable holiday gift, I highly recommend this book.
An interesting collection of venereal nouns ranging from the historical to the current. There are whimsical illustrations as well. A book for reference, but you will find yourself dipping into other entries than the one you started researching.
This book about one of the most charming quirks of the English language, grouping nouns, has at least 1,000 things to teach you...and it might make you chuckle while doing it.
Pretty cool book about all the weird names for groups of various animals.
An "exaltation of larks"? Yes! And a "leap of leopards," a "parliament of owls," an "ostentation of peacocks," a "smack of jellyfish," and a "murder of crows"! For those who have ever wondered if the familiar "pride of lions" and "gaggle of geese" were only the tip of a linguistic iceberg, James Lipton has provided the definitive answer: here are hundreds of equally pithy, and often poetic, terms unearthed by Mr. Lipton in the Books of Venery that were the constant study of anyone who aspired to the title of gentleman in the fifteenth century. When Mr. Lipton's painstaking research revealed that five hundred years ago the terms of venery had already been turned into the Game of Venery, he embarked on an odyssey that has given us a "slouch of models," a "shrivel of critics," an "unction of undertakers," a "blur of Impressionists," a "score of bachelors," and a "pocket of quarterbacks." This ultimate edition of An Exaltation of Larks is Mr. Lipton's brilliant answer to the assault on language and literacy in the last decades of the twentieth century. In it you will find more than 1,100 resurrected or newly minted contributions to that most endangered of all species, our language, in a setting of 250 witty, beautiful, and remarkably apt engravings.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)428.1 — Language English Standard English usage (Prescriptive linguistics) Spellers--English language
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I'm a fan of James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio but he writes much like he talks and I admit it doesn't work for me as well on the page as it does from the stage. It's not an easy-reading style and he happily bogs himself down in references, quotes, and citations. My mind wandered a few times as the tone of the writing got awfully close to an academic conference presentation.
Still, there's a lot of fun, interesting information here for anyone curious about the history of language, and Mr. Lipton celebrates the possibilities at the end of the book, by including games for creating your own terms of venery, complete with rules, scoring, and variations for speed. His index of terms in the back includes blank spaces next to each noun so that the owner of the book can save his own terms for posterity.
I can't say the book was a joy to read, but it was informative, interesting and well organised. I'm going to enjoy having it on my shelf and can easily see it being an oft used reference. ( )