Whatchamacallit…Part One

Meerkat Misidentified

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that the first time I ever saw a meerkat was in The Lion King. Shocking…but true.

Suricate family standing in the early morning sun looking for po

What’s this called?

In fact, the first time I saw The Lion King I had no idea what Timon was. Embarrassingly enough, I thought he was a poorly executed rat, but then someone kindly explained to me that he was a meerkat. And at first, I thought they were saying he was just a cat, or simply a cat, but then they patiently explained that there is an entire species of animals called meerkats that are not related to cats…or rats, but to mongooses, which I was familiar with because of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. So having that all cleared up, I still didn’t exactly appreciate meerkats because the cartoon version still resembled a rat that walked around on its hind legs (as cartoon mammals are prone to do regardless of how they get around in real life, e.g., Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Bugs, and Remy from Ratatouille, to name but a few), and because the name still sounded to me like someone was trying to disparage my beloved cats, the way someone might dismiss another’s suitability, saying, “He’s a mere child…”

Then I saw a nature show on PBS about meerkats and I realized that they are much cuter and much more charming in the flesh. Unfortunately, this program was about a family of these endearing little critters who were on a collision course with destiny, in the form of (1). a famine (gasp), (2). the debilitating effects of inbreeding (wait…what?), (3). lions (boo), and (4). jackals (hiss). I cried…and wondered how it was that people who make these nature documentaries can sit there filming while living creatures are being brutalized right in front of them…and now, with the advent of camera phones, it all begins to make sense…

Getting Closer to the Point

But I’m not here to talk about what an adorable little, upright, ground-dwelling animal is called. I’m here to talk about what a group of adorable little, upright, ground-dwelling animals is called.

And that leads me to the real, actual purpose of today’s post. Do you ever wonder about the specific name for a certain animal group?

Two common, slightly generic group designations are herd or flock, as in a herd of cattle, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, elephants, etc… or a flock of sheep, goats, ducks (birds, in general), camels, etc.  It’s also interesting to note that these words also refer to the action of gathering animals or people together (as in Corgis were bred to herd cattle) or to the action of animals or people moving together as a group (as in They flocked to the Apple Store to buy the latest iPhone).

A few more common group designations are school, pride, and pod. Who hasn’t heard of a school of fish or a pride of lions? And the term pod can refer to groups of sea mammals, like seals, walruses, and whales, and even to sea-faring birds, like pelicans.

But some group designations are slightly more obscure. Which brings me back to the aforementioned meerkats. A recent trip to the zoo revealed that a group of meerkats is called a mob. Who knew? Not to be mistaken for a flash mob, but rather a mere mob (so don’t go envisioning a planned spontaneous assemblage of meerkats getting down to Rachel Platten’s Stand by You. That would be cute…but it’s not going to happen).

Some group designations are fun and alliterative like a gaggle of geese, the aforementioned mob of meerkats, or the aptly named pandemonium of parrots. And if you’ve ever seen a flock of wild parrots, then you know exactly what I mean! Other group designations conjure up pretty amazing mental images: an army of frogs, a flutter of butterflies, a gang of elks (“…if they say blades, I say blades. If they say guns, I say guns…”), leading me to wonder, who comes up with these words?! And others still, we may have first heard about in songs—like Sting’s All This Time, which memorably mentions a murder of crows.

Ah…words. Gotta love ’em…or at any rate, use ’em!

Happy writing!

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