Lost in Translation

Most of us have heard of a murder of crows, right? Rather than something that sends ominous chills up and down your spine, it’s really just a way to describe a bunch of crows without saying … well, “There was this bunch of crows …”

The names of other animal groupings are just as interesting and intriguing. How many of these had you heard of—and used properly—before today?

Orpheus Charming the Animals, Jacob Hoefnagel, 1613

A rookery of albatross.

A congregation of alligators.

A shrewdness of apes.

A battery of barracudas.

A sleuth of bears.

A wreck of birds.

A sute of bloodhounds.

A wake of buzzards (getting ominous again).

A bellowing of bullfinches.

A nuisance of cats.

A destruction of wild cats.

A coalition of cheetahs.

A quiver of cobras. (Well, sure, they’d make anyone quiver!)

A pod of dolphins.

A pitying of doves.

A memory of elephants.

A business of ferrets.

A charm of finches.

A flamboyance of flamingoes.

A tower of giraffes.

An implausibility of gnus.

A bloat of hippopotamuses. Hippopatami?

A lounge of lizards.

A mischief of mice.

A company of moles.

A parliament of owls.

A pandemonium of parrots.

A pride of peacocks.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes.

An unkindness of ravens.

A congress of salamanders.

A shiver of sharks.

A fever of stingrays.

A gulp of swallows.

A gang (or posse) of turkeys.

A generation of vipers.

A kettle of vultures.

A wisdom of wombats.

A dazzle of zebras.

These are just the ones that caught my eye. There are dozens more names of animal packs and groupings. Which one is your favorite?

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(n.) Finnish; that secondhand embarrassment you feel when someone is making a fool of themselves, vicarious shame, or shame by proxy. From myötä- (“co-”) +‎ häpeä (“shame”).

For some with deep empathy, their myötähäpeä is so acute as to hide under the covers during movies or television scenes when a character is being ridiculous, or to avoid parties where certain relatives are bound to make an embarrassing entrance.

If you’ve never felt it, you probably haven’t had kids yet …

Photo by Tony Alter via Wikimedia Commons.

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(n.) The practice of responding to an accusation by making a counter-accusation, real or imaginary, relevant or irrelevant. Protesting at hypocrisy; responding to criticism by accusing one’s opponent of similar or worse faults. Protesting at inconsistency; refusing to act in one instance unless similar action is taken in other similar instances.

Sound familiar?

Image, W. Esser, Bodleian Libraries via Wikimedia Commons. Translation: “Now I have to go to Elba with my cock, calmly.”

Earliest documented use: 1974. Originally used in describing political discourse during the Northern Ireland troubles, it has also found use in discussions of the origins of other prolonged sectarian conflicts, such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It was widely employed by then USSR as a propaganda technique and is now often a favorite of our current president. It is also known as whataboutism. “Turbo-charged online whataboutery is destroying proper debate.” – Helen Lewis, Nov 26, 2015

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

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(n.) A detailed, prolonged, and imaginary world created by a child that includes humans, animals, or alien creatures. Can have a definite geography, language, and history.

pronunciation | \per-o-‘koz-m\

Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith via Wikimedia Commons.

Examples of paracosm:

  • Middle-earth, the highly detailed fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, as expressed in his novels The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Tolkien had been inventing languages since his teen years, only later imagining the people who spoke them or their environment.
  • Gondal, Angria, and Gaaldine, the fantasy kingdoms created and written about in childhood by Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë and their brother, Branwell, and maintained well into adulthood. These kingdoms are specifically referred to as paracosms in several academic works.
  • As children, novelist C. S. Lewis and his brother, Warren, together created a paracosm called Boxen, which was in turn a combination of their respective private paracosms Animal-Land and India. Lewis later drew upon Animal-Land to create the fantasy land of Narnia, which he wrote about in The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Hogwarts, invented by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books.
  • Terabithia, the imaginary kingdom invented by author Katherine Patterson, in her beloved novel Bridge to Terabithia.
  • Never Land, from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
  • Wonderland, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Well, I could go and on, but what’s your favorite paracosm? And did you have your own that followed you into adulthood?

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You may know one of these people. You can usually recognize them by their gnawed pencils, their ink-stained fingers, their constantly open and tap-tap-tapping laptop, and their habit of leaving parties early when inspiration strikes.

What is a scripturient exactly? Someone well-versed in religious texts? Or a playwright? Your friendly neighborhood pharmacist? A handwriting expert? Well, they too could be a scripturient, yes, but here’s the actual definition:

(adj.) having a desire or passion for writing; having a liking or itch for authorship. A nearly violent craving and/or urge to put words on paper.

(n.) one who has a passion for writing.

This isn’t just someone who dabbles in the occasional short story or poem, however. Did you see the word ‘violent’ in there? This is a serious burning and lust for storytelling, novel writing, and an addiction to one’s own scribbles.

Do you know one? Are you one? We’re willing to bet Edgar Allan Poe was a scripturient in his (tell-tale) heart.

Photo of a daguerreotype by Edwin H. Manchester via Wikimedia Commons.

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Bimble …

No, not bumble. (Autocorrect didn’t get me this time.) It’s bimble …

As in, to bimble along.

(v.) walk or travel at a leisurely pace.

On Sunday, we bimbled around Spitalfields and Brick Lane.

(n.) a leisurely walk or journey.

We were enjoying a pleasant bimble over the rocks.


I like the Urban Dictionary’s description even better, don’t you?

“To amble without real aim, yet in a friendly and harmless manner. It’s not required to achieve nothing, though it is a frequent side effect. Bimbling can be made a little more business-like with a slight hunch of the shoulders.”

I rather think Bilbo Baggins enjoyed a good bimble, don’t you? (Now we’re getting into tongue-twisting territory.)

From The First Saint Omnibus: An Anthology of Saintly Adventures (1939), page 269:

But the Duchess starts bimbling and wambling and wimbling and threatens to wallop his ducal behind.

Wambling and wimbling? There are two more for us to learn …

Der Sonntagsspaziergang, by Albert von Keller via Wikimedia Commons

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I confess to being one myself at times. But in my defense, learning new technologies is baffling and time-consuming. And why must everything on your laptop change once you run an update? Inquiring minds want to know.

(n.) Ludd·ite  \ ˈlə-ˌdīt \

One of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying labor-saving machinery as a protest; one who is opposed to technological change.

The Luddites argued that automation destroys jobs. It became an entire movement—the Luddite movement—in 1811, in Nottingham, England. After machinery began to replace them, textile mill workers rioted. The name itself is likely rooted in a fictional character named Ned Ludd in George Pellew’s Life of Lord Sidmouth (1847). Poor Ned, in a fit of rage and insanity, rushed into a weaver’s house and destroyed all of the equipment.

Anyone who shuns new technologies is now considered something of a Luddite. But come on now, who among us has not had vivid daydreams of running over their misbehaving printer with a tractor? Just me? Hello?

Photo by diveuniversefest via Wikimedia Commons.

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Saudade (soh-dah-duh) especially with reference to songs or poetry: a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament. An English translation of this word would best be replaced by ‘missingness.’

“Her songs are based on love poems and evoke a melancholy known to the Portuguese as saudade.”

(n.) “yearnings, saudades, those sonorous fruits grown for overripe hearts” or “the love that remains”

A Portuguese and Galician term that is a common fixture in the literature and music of Brazil, Portugal, Cape Verde, and beyond. The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again.

“A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” ~ Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo.

“No matter where I wander, I’m still haunted by your name
The portrait of your beauty stays the same
Standing by the ocean wondering where you’ve gone
If you’ll return again
Where is the ring I gave to Nancy Spain?”
~ Barney Rush in his example of saudade in contemporary Irish music.

Image by Jose Ferraz de Almeida Junior via Wikimedia Commons.

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tombstone tourists

Taphophilia Origin: Ancient Greek τάφος (taphos, “funeral rites”, “burial”, “funeral”, “wake”; “tomb”, “grave”) + English -philia (from the Ancient Greek φιλία (philia), philia, “love”, “fondness”)

If wandering through cemeteries, imagining the lives of those who lay beneath the poems and quotes, and taking pictures of the tombstones is something that someone you know enjoys, s/he just might have a mild case of taphophilia. Also called a “tombstone tourist,” or a “cemeterian,” or even a “cemetery hunter,” the people afflicted with this don’t seem to suffer from it. Quite the contrary, they find walking through a cemetery to be the most peaceful of hobbies. What’s not to love? Trees, peace, quiet, maybe even a rest beneath a tree. Or perhaps the contemplation of life itself while leaning up against a … beautifully carved rock.

Glasnevin Cemetery by William Murphy via Wikimedia Commons

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Host a game night for friends and you might learn who is the kibitzer in your group … gulp. (We hope it’s not you.)

“A Waterloo” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, circa 1906, via Wikimedia Commons

noun, informal.

A spectator at a card game who looks at the players’ cards over their shoulders.

One who gives unsolicited, unappreciated advice and opinions.

A person who jokes, chitchats, or makes wisecracks, especially while others are trying to work or to discuss something serious.

Origin of kibitzer


From the Yiddish, dating back to 1925-30

Synonyms: meddler, busybody, snoop.

I don’t mind admitting that a good kibitzer has 20-20 hindsight.” – Alfked Sheinwold

“I’m a kibitzer with a broad portfolio.” – David Axelrod

“Victory has 1,000 fathers. Defeat has 1,000 kibitzers.” – Jeff Greenfield

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