"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art.
Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so
great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour
is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: "An Exaltation of Larks," by James Lipton

50 Collective Nouns to Bolster Your Vocabulary
 
Lucas Reilly
January 18, 2013
Image credit: Michael Lyons
Collective nouns may seem like quirky ways to describe groups, but 500 years ago, they were your ticket to the in-crowd. Most collective nouns, or “terms of venery,” were coined during the 15th century. Many were codified in books of courtesy, like the 1486 classic Book of St. Albans. St. Albans was a handbook for medieval gentlemen, and it contained essays on hawking, hunting, and heraldry. Appended to the hunting chapter sits a list of 164 collective nouns, titled “The Compaynys of Beestys and Fowlys.” (Contrary to the title, many terms actually describe people—a biting example of ye olde satire.)
 
As silly as some sound today, the phrases were formal and proper descriptions. St. Albans was, after all, a vocabulary-booster, a primer designed to help gentlemen-in-training avoid the embarrassment of “some blunder at the table.” Over the next century, the book’s popularity bloomed. Similar courtesy handbooks caught on, and by the end of the 16th century, a slew of collective nouns had entered the lexicon.
 
Some have achieved widespread currency and acceptance, like a “flight of stairs,” “a board of trustees,” and a “school of fish.” Others, like a “murder of crows,” barely cling on. However, a handful of obscure phrases have made a comeback, thanks to James Lipton’s wonderful compendium of collective nouns, An Exaltation of Larks. Here are a few from Lipton’s book that you should add to your repertoire.
 
1. Business of Ferrets
2. Labor of Moles
3. Mustering of Storks
4. Shrewdness of Apes
5. Gam of Whales
6. Smack of Jellyfish
7. Host of Angels
8. Fusillade of Bullets
9. Baptism of Fire
10. Quiver of Arrows
11. Tissue of lies
12. Murder of Crows
13. Unkindness of Ravens
14. Dule of Doves
15. Clowder, Cluster, or Clutter of Cats
16. Kindle of Kittens
17. Mute of Hounds
18. Pass of Asses
19. Ostentation of Peacocks
20. Team of Ducks (when flying)
21. Paddling of Ducks (when on water)
22. Trip of Goats
23. Sloth, or Sleuth, of Bears
24. Charm of Finches
25. Hill of Beans
26. String of Ponies
27. Hand of Bananas
28. College of Cardinals
29. Shock of Corn
30. Band of Men
31. Knot of Toads
32. Wedge of Swans (when flying)
33. Parliament of Owls
34. Superfluity of Nuns
35. Abominable Sight of Monks
36. Untruth of Summoners
37. Doctrine of Doctors
38. Damning of Jurors
39. Sentence of Judges
40. Rascal of Boys
41. Gaggle of Women
42. Gaggle of Gossips
43. Impatience of Wives
44. Tabernacle of Bakers
45. Poverty of Pipers
46. Fighting of Beggars
47. Neverthriving of Jugglers
48. Herd of Harlots
49. Worship of Writers
50. Hastiness of Cooks
 
According to Lipton, the terms above “are authentic and authoritative. They were used, they were correct, and they are useful, correct—and available—today.”
 
 
 
Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.
 
About the Author
 
James Lipton is the creator, executive producer, writer, and host of Inside the Actors Studio, which is seen in eighty-nine million homes in America on the Bravo network, and in 125 countries, and has received fourteen Emmy nominations. He is the author of the novel Mirrors, which he then adapted and produced for the screen, and of the American literary perennial An Exaltation of Larks, and has written the book and lyrics of two Broadway musicals. His television productions include Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala, the first presidential concert ever televised; twelve Bob Hope birthday specials, reaching record-breaking audiences; and The Road to China, the first American entertainment program from the People’s Republic. He is a vice president of the Actors Studio, is the founder and dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, has received three honorary PhDs, is a recipient of France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
 
 
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5.0 out of 5 stars
April 4, 2001
Format:Paperback
 
Here's a real gem! AN EXALTATION OF LARKS (Ultimate Edition) is the culmination of more than two decades of Lipton's research of "nouns of multitude," which he prefers to call "terms of venery." (noun archaic usage - the practice or sport of hunting; the chase; more commonly the gratification of (sexual) desire.)
 
Many of these terms are commonplace: plague of locusts, pride of lions, litter of pups. Imagine, though, hearing these expressions for the first time. Lipton invites us to "sharpen our senses by restoring the magic to the mundane."
 
Lipton traced a number of these terms back to the 1400s, specifically to THE BOOK OF ST. ALBANS, printed in 1486. In addition to today's ordinary terms, he discovered some that had a fresh sound, precisely because they had not made the 500-year journey to our modern era.
 
Lipton identifies six sources of inspiration for the terms. He lists these "Families" with the following examples:
 
1. Onomatopoeia ("a formation of a word by imitation"): a murmuration of starlings, a gaggle of geese.
 
2. Characteristic (by far the largest Family): a leap of leopards, a skulk of foxes.
 
3. Appearance: a knot of toads, a parliament of owls.
 
4. Habitat: a shoal of bass, a nest of rabbits.
 
5. Comment (pro or con depending on viewpoint): a richness of martens, a cowardice of curs.
 
6. Error (in transcription or printing; sometimes preserved for centuries): "school" of fish was originally intended to be "shoal."
 
Lipton enthusiastically joined the "game" of coining terms, which had been in progress for more than 500 years. In 1968 he published his first EXALTATION OF LARKS, which contained 175 terms -- some from Middle English, some original. Neither the hardbound nor the paperback edition went out of print before the Ultimate Edition (with more than 1,000 terms) was published in 1991. As Lipton puts it, textbooks and various media "used the book like sourdough to leaven new batches of terms."
 
Lipton believes that a pun or a play on words detracts from the vigor of a term. Alliteration, likewise, is unnecessary. Rather the success of the term hinges on identifying the "quintessential part" of the group of people or things and allowing it to represent the whole: a blur of impressionists, a brood of hens, a quiver of arrows. (Lipton's research on this last item revealed that as early as 1300 a poetic soul rejected the available words "case" and "scabbard" and turned "quiver" into a noun.)
 
AN EXALTATION OF LARKS includes a few pages detailing Lipton's lexical odysseys and triumphs. Most of the book comprises the lists themselves. The origin of some of the terms is explained, and more than 250 of the terms are illustrated with witty engravings by Grandville, a 19th Century French lithographer. More than half the book lists terms in 25 categories, such as professions (an aroma of bakers), daily life (a belch of smokestacks), and academe (a discord of experts).
 
Lipton includes several versions of games in which players coin new terms. His index lists his 1,000+ terms with a blank replacing the first item, which is the source of a term's poetry. The reader is thus encouraged to discern the essence of the thing collected. The page number facilitates the comparison of newly coined terms with existing ones.
 
AN EXALTATION OF LARKS is indeed "a word lover's garden of delights."
 
 
 
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Images of Engravings by Grandville
 
~ click any image below to enlarge ~