Sunday March 4, 2007

A Serious

Many of you, no doubt, are familiar with the profusion of English collective nouns, which includes turns of phrase like a parliament of owls, a murder of crows, and many, many more.  These are also sometimes referred to as terms of venery, apparently the name for them popularized in An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton.  (Yes, that James Lipton.)  At the moment, I'm catching up on a month of Language Log (a back-Log?), and I noticed the following typo in a post by Mark Liberman about the history of the site:

In October of 2003, we started to get somewhat serious about the enterprise, recruiting Geoff Nunberg and then a serious of other colleagues to join us.

Now, this isn't a very linguistically unusual mistake—€”it's a garden variety perseveration of the earlier occurrence of serious—”but it inspires me to propose a new term of venery: a serious of colleagues, or, better still, a serious of scholars.  It's catchy—use it today!  Interestingly, Bill Poser seems to be toying with the idea as well, writing in this post from Friday:

A good example of this is the infamous serious of Sally, Dick, and Jane books that many of us suffered through.

It's an interesting alternative proposal, but I don't think a serious of books has quite the same ring to it, and anyway Wikipedia's list claims the proper collective noun for books is library.  (Though that seems to me to be stretching the idea of a collective noun a bit.  Are shelf, box, backpack, and armful also collective nouns for book?)

In spite of its evident cleverness, I've decided to resist the urge to immediately insert a serious of scholars into Wikipedia's list of collective nouns.  Best to give it a week or to catch on, I'm thinking.  I can wait.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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Yes. This must happen.

Where can I sign up?

Posted by: Michael at Mar 4, 2007 3:56:26 PM

Isn't that exaltation of larks? (And your link agrees). To me, "exalt" is a rather ecclesiastical way of saying "to praise unto the highest degree, to treat (someone) as god-like" whereas "exult" is "to celebrate triumphantly (with a kind of gloating undertone)".

Posted by: at Mar 5, 2007 4:57:26 AM

"Isn't that exaltation of larks?"

Ah, right you are—fixed now.

This reminds me of a story. A Japanese student in our department once asked me for examples of matching pairs of transitive/intransitive English verbs like those that commonly occur in Japanese (e.g. tomeru 'to stop (tr)' and tomaru 'to stop; to stay'). She'd found a couple of marginal examples like raise/rise, and I couldn't come up with any more until it occurred to me that exalt/exult is sort of an example. That's because, metaphorically, when you exalt something, you put it up on a pedestal, and when you exult, you jump for joy. Therefore, both involve movement upwards. :)

Posted by: The Tensor at Mar 5, 2007 5:35:55 AM

There aren't many - English (modern) generally just doesn't put an object. But as well as raise/rise, there are lay/lie and set/sit and all of them seem to be becoming lost. The "lay/lie" problem is well known, but I've seen many examples of "raise" used intransitively (the mist raised off the river, e.g.) and as for "set/sit", the similarity of the vowels has, I think, masked the conflation - it's hard to tell if my cousins are saying "sit that over there" or "set that over there", and certainly "sit yourself down" is common.

Posted by: The Ridger at Mar 7, 2007 2:32:33 AM

On a less serious note, in his parodies of Martin Amis (, Craig Brown has him say, "I am a serious" - quoted here:

Posted by: RichS at Apr 3, 2007 6:38:06 AM

Posted by: at Oct 11, 2007 9:28:00 AM