Collective nouns to impress and annoy
By Tony Wilson
A murder of crows. An unkindness of ravens. A sleuth of bears. A wing of dragons. A bed of clams. A pod of dolphins. An army of ants.
It’s an odd thing that in the English language, we have so many different “collective nouns” for specific groups of other nouns, normally of the animal persuasion. These are sometimes called “Terms of Venery” or “Nouns of Assembly.” But as much as we have these terms for whales, birds and other animals, we don’t seem to have them for lawyers, and the people lawyers deal with.
Some people want to scuba dive with Great White Sharks, rappel off 22-story skyscrapers for charity, or see the Pyramids before they die. Having done all that, my bucket list now includes writing the odd piece for The New Yorker, getting eight years of BarTalk articles published in book form and adding a few new expressions to the English language. They’re modest goals, I admit, but one must have goals. After all, I coined “schadenfreudeh” in Macleans, which is the pleasure most of us on the Coast feel when our relatives in Eastern Canada are buried in snow in March and April while we’re golfing, sailing or gardening the winter away. I originated “Solitigator,” which is a lawyer who walks both sides of the street, and was the first to use “Kegmare” in a national newspaper. “Lient” for an untruthful client was genius. Someday, there will be a Wikipedia entry just for my portmanteaus.
A Gaggle of Lawyers sounds to me to be the best collective self-deprecating description of our profession. Interestingly enough, besides being a flock of geese that isn’t flying, a “gaggle” is a term to describe eight fifty-pound bags of salt, a loosely formed tactical formation of aircrafts, and an informal White House press conference. Who knew?
If we divide up the legal profession, I’d suggest a Brood of Solicitors, for those of us tied to our desks running deals, drafting contracts and finding ways to give our litigation partners more billable hours than we can ever acquire just so they can lord it over us at partners’ meetings. (That’s why we brood, I suppose.)
How about a Quarrel of Litigators for those who regularly appear in court but who brag incessantly about all their billable hours to those of us who sent them the files in the first place?
I’m not much of a James Joyce fan (the Bloom is off the rose for that author), but in homage to Dickens, a Jarndyce of Motions, though a tad erudite, suggests champertous litigation that never ends, and a litigator that keeps it going, just like in Bleak House.
Just as bleak (and just as erudite), a Dedlock of Deadlocks is what happens when counsel can’t agree on anything. Feel free to toss this expression, like a salad, into a conversation to show someone how learned you really are. “Oh, where did you come up with such a witticism, good sir? Dickens? “Oh no kind lady, I read it in BarTalk. A book is imminent. ”
Given the financial meltdown that started on Wall Street in 2008 and migrated, like birds in winter, to Greece and other European countries, perhaps a Conspiracy of Stockbrokers is an apt descriptor for a profession that is finally getting worse press than lawyers normally do and an Acropolis of Debt might describe a country that borrows too much.
A Cacophony of Clients might be a good thing to have in tough times, as would a Plethora of Plaintiffs. For those of you regularly dealing with ICBC, how about a Drove of Adjusters? (Bada-boom).
Maybe you like ones that are less literary, closer to home and with a distinctly B.C. touch. How about a Friesen of CLEs, a Wally of Jurists or a Loukidelis of Legislation?
Or do you have, in the words of the late great Douglas Adams, a Salmon of Doubt about these terms ever catching on?
Vancouver Franchise Lawyer Tony Wilson practices at Boughton Law Corporation, is a regular columnist with the Globe and Mail and is an Adjunct Professor at SFU. His views do not reflect the views of the CBABC, the Law Society of BC or any other organization.
This article was published in the November 2011 issue of BarTalk. © 2011 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.