Unkind Ravens and Murderous Crows

murderofcrowsIt is the end of the semester, I’m buried in papers to read, and the Polar Vortex is bringing below-freezing temperatures back to Michigan. I definitely needed something to make me laugh. Then James Lane’s Unkind Ravens and Murderous Crows arrived in my mailbox, and the day was suddenly a little better. Yes, it’s attached to an ad for language learning (of which I have no knowledge, so this is not an endorsement), but the illustrations are wonderful.

Lane teaches the origin of some of the glorious phrases used to describe collections of animals—a pride of lions, a parliament of owls, a murder of crows, a confusion of guinea fowls, and so forth. Who knew that so many of them originated with 14th and 15th century hunting? But even in those early days, such phrases inspired additions and spoofs (though you might wait until high school to teach about an incredulity of cuckolds!)

parlimentofowlsThe site includes delightful illustrations, including those I’ve shared here. It could be great fun for younger students to illustrate other phrases on their own. But better yet, there are plenty of animals that don’t yet have their own collective noun, or whose label could be improved. Students could invent (and justify) their own labels for animals or anything else. My quick-witted husband immediately suggested a “scratch of lice.” Lane suggests a flush of plumbers, or a shuffle of bureaucrats. This is a chance to go to town with some creativity, humor and language study all at once. Enjoy!

PS If you’d like to introduce your lesson with a song, what could be better than Carrie Newcomer’s “A Crash of Rhinoceros?” You can find the lyrics here.


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