Learn British English with Anastassia

Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Month: February 2020

A murder of crows and other collective nouns for animals

You certainly know that a group of dogs or wolves is called a pack, sheep as well as birds gather in flocks, and when camels get together they form a caravan.

Unlike, for example, my native Russian, the English language has a unique collective noun for an impressive variety of living things (not all of them are commonly used though).

A conspiracy of lemurs. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

You are likely to find many of them surprising, weird or downright hilarious – clearly, vivid imagination was not in shortage in mediaeval times these lexical gems are said to date back to.

And notice how precise some of them are as to highlight the main trait of the animal in question.

Here are my favourite twenty:

  • a sloth or sleuth of bears
  • a gang or obstinacy of buffaloes
  • a murder of crows
  • a parade of elephants
  • a business of ferrets
  • an army of frogs
  • a tower of giraffes
  • a band of gorillas
  • a troop or mob of kangaroos
  • a conspiracy of lemurs
  • a leap of leopards
  • a pride of lions
  • a labor of moles
  • a family of otters
  • a parliament of owls
  • a pandemonium of parrots
  • a prickle of porcupines
  • an unkindness of ravens
  • a crash of rhinoceroses
  • a stench of skunks

Aren’t they beautiful?!

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Derriere, or the embellished behind

Image by Nici Keil from Pixabay

How many English words for the part of your body you sit on do you know?

Well, the choices are plenty – bottom, rear (also rear end), rump, backside, buttocks, cheeks, hindquarters, bum, butt and arse (AmE ass) to name just a few.

However, my favourite is the French derrière.

If you’re proud of your derrière, show it off in these hot pants.

It arrived in the English language at the end of the 18th century as a euphemism for ‘behind’. Basically, the word ‘behind’, which already was in use to refer to the part of the body in question, was translated to derrière. How or why it happened remains unclear. Possibly, the French equivalent was thought to sound less vulgar and even kind of respectful in contrast to ‘arse’, ‘bum’ and ‘buttocks’. And so it does, don’t you think?

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How to Learn the Right Way

We’re all lifelong learners. The moment we’re born we start exploring the world around us and learning about its ways. We experiment, make mistakes, memorize what worked and what didn’t in a similar situation last time (retrieval practice) and so progress through life becoming more and more knowledgeable each day.

Image by Jan Vasek from Pixabay

However, this is not how we learn in academic circumstances. Here among the most popular techniques are rereading text and massed practice of a skill or new knowledge (e.g. cramming for exams). Empirical research has shown that they are a waste of time and effort. Massed practice works only in the short run because it takes time for new knowledge to get transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. And when rereading, say, your lecture notes, you practice rereading, not recalling. It’s that simple. Being able to repeat the phrases in your course book doesn’t mean that you have mastered its content. It’s just an illusion of knowing.

Instead try at least one of the following things.

  • Test yourself on the material.
  • Can you define its main points?
  • Try turning the main ideas into questions and then answer them.
  • Connect the new learning to what you already know.
  • Look for examples beyond the text.
  • Find a metaphor or visual image for the new material.

It’s time-consuming, requires a lot of mental effort and might sound counterintuitive but this is how deep, durable easy-to-access knowledge is achieved. Shortcuts won’t get you there.

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