Terms of venery in Literature

Among the many gems within the English language writers wanting to create vocabulary rich characters, particularly historical ones, use Terms Of Venery in their dialog. Terms of venery (hunting) are the linguist equivalent of silly hats: colorful, affected, fashionable, and quite popular. Terms of venery in Literature, like most jargon, were ripe for parody, but they were also use to cover a range of subtleties.

In a light novel of 1916, Faith Tresilion, Eden Phillpotts offers this exchange that highlights the nature of groups of curs, both literal and figurative. Defending his mixed-breed hunting dogs, a huntsman claims it is not the breed but the leader who matters:

“What a cowardice of curs!” commented Lieutenant Baldwin; whereupon his uncle stood up for the local pack.“They are good enough hounds,” he said. “…The use of a foxhound does not demand bravery. It is the same with men. As a soldier you should know that. The leaders are brave, the rank and file look to them for that spirit that inspires a fighting regiment…” 

The distinction Phillpotts appears to make is that cowardices of curs (whether human or canine) are defined by their lack of brave leadership. The unavoidable implication is that both dogs and the human “rank and file” are at their best—and are the bravest and most loyal—when they have the beneficent guidance of well-bred humans.

Groups of unpedigreed dogs or “curs,” the language became more colorful. A grouping of this kind was reportedly referred to as a “cowardice of curs.”reference 2 Now there is a vivid collective noun for you: cowardice. So, if you’re aiming for a particularly unlikable villain have him use this venery term.

These dogs were already looked down upon as strays and the companions of the lower classes, so why add insult to injury by calling a group of curs a “cowardice?” Perhaps it was because these dogs often had to fend for themselves rather than being fed by the products of today’s pet food industry. As with hunting packs everywhere, ungoverned groups of dogs chose the most vulnerable as their prey and avoided fights they could not win. All really good survival strategies, but they run counter to the image of the dog as loyal and noble; and there is no doubt that as a result curs appeared cowardly. Branding them as cowards may also have served to reinforced a notion that purebred dogs are morally superior, or at least have superior guidance from their more aristocratic owners.

Origins of the terms of venery

A delightful quirk of the English language, terms of venery (hunting), or nouns of the collection as they are also known, are essentially linguistic leftovers from the Late Middle Ages. Many names for groups of animals were first recorded in specially published books for nobility, on the various aspects of noble life, specifically hunting. 

Through the course of courtly fashion and the language naturally extending, collective nouns were perpetuated long after their usefulness and introduction. 

Based on old folk tales, superstitions, and mythology, there are likely several different explanations for the origin of the term murder of crows. Scavengers in nature, crows, have a rich association with death and are seen by some as pests, leading to their less than favorable connection with death and fear. Loud, rambunctious, and very intelligent, crows have had a long history of being associated with the macabre. 

A Murder of Crows Dr Brooke Magnanti - Terms of venery in Literature

These books were designed as manuals to instruct young aristocrats on social graces and activities, without embarrassing them. One of the most influential in surviving, The Book of Saint Albans, is credited with the first appearance of terms of venery (a medieval term for hunting). Among such useful hunting terms as a gaggle of geese and an exaltation of larks, geese found on land would be referred to as a gaggle, whereas a group of geese seen flying is often referred to as a skein or wedge depending on the formation. You can also find the wisdom of wombats and a crash of rhinos.

Crows are most commonly referred to as a murder. There are several different explanations for the origin of this term, mostly based on old folk tales and superstitions. For instance, there is a folktale that crows will gather and decide the capital fate of another crow.

Ravens have come to be known in a group as an unkindness or a conspiracy. While many of these terms have a basis in animal behavior, this one couldn’t be more untrue for a group of ravens. Ravens are smart, cunning, and fun-loving birds are known to both display affection and mischievousness.

Before adding the term to your manuscript be sure to check any connotation the term might have.

Here’s a list to get you started from The Book of Saint Albans:

  • a feast of brewers
  • a goring of butchers
  • an observance of hermits
  • a school of clerks
  • a doctrine of doctors
  • a tabernacle of bakers
  • a prudence of vicars
  • a state of princes
  • a congregation of people
  • a diligence of messengers
  • a discretion of priests
  • an execution of officers
  • an eloquence of lawyers
  • a drunkenship of cobblers
  • a proud showing of tailors
  • a skulk of thieves

For the complete list click here

Books about the names for groups of animals.


An Exaltation of Larks

An Exaltation of Larks, The Ultimate Edition. by Lipton, James  Book – 1993

A Shiver of Sharks

A Shiver of Sharks, A Compilation of Aquatic Collective Nouns  Book – 2012

A Filth of Starlings

A Filth of Starlings, A Compilation of Bird and Aquatic Animal Group Names by PatrickGeorge (Firm)  Book – 2009

A Crackle of Crickets

A Crackle of Crickets. A Compilation of Insect Collective Nouns  Book – 2012

A Drove of Bullocks

A Drove of Bullocks, A Compilation of Animal Group Names.  Book – 2009

A Storytelling of Ravens

A Storytelling of Ravens, by Lukoff, Kyle  Book – 2018

A Crash of Rhinos

A Crash of Rhinos, And Other Wild Animal Groups by Danylyshyn, Greg  Book – 2016

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings, Quirky Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom by Sewell, Matt  Book – 2017

A Tower of Giraffes

A Tower of Giraffes, Animals in Groups by Wright, Anna  Book – 2015

Have You Ever Seen A Smack of Jellyfish?

Have You Ever Seen A Smack of Jellyfish?, An Alphabet Book by Asper-Smith, Sarah  Book – 2010

An Ambush of Tigers

An Ambush of Tigers, A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns by Rosenthal, Betsy R.  Book – 2015

A Compendium of Collective Nouns

A Compendium of Collective Nouns, From An Armory of Aardvarks to A Zeal of Zebras by Woop Studios  Book – 2013

A Zeal of Zebras

A Zeal of Zebras, An Alphabet of Collective Nouns  Book – 2011

A Dignity of Dragons

A Dignity of Dragons, Collective Nouns for Magical Beasts by Ogburn, Jacqueline K.  Book – 2010

Life With My Family

Life With My Family, by Hooker, Renee  Book – 2018

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