CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

Collective nouns

A collective noun is a word that describes a group of people or things, and there are lot of them, as a different one is used for different situations and types of people. Examples of collective nouns for humans include:

faculty (of academics)

team (of players)

crowd (of people)

gang (of thieves)

choir (of singers)

troupe (of performers)

audience (of listeners)

Animals are usually grouped by species or kind:

herd (of buffalo)

pride (of lions)

school (of fish)

colony (of ants)

troop (of monkeys)

murder (of crows)

flock (of birds)

But when it comes to inanimate objects, the following can be used:

chain (of islands)

fleet (of ships)

library (of books)

wealth (of information)

bouquet (of flowers)

convoy (of vehicles)

constellation (of stars)

As you can see, there’s a lot and some get very peculiar, especially the older ones (a clench of sphincters and a beautification of spatulas, for instance). But once you collect a group of somethings, does that make the collective a singular or plural entity?

The clue here is to look at the article.

The colony of ants

A fleet of ships

The choir of singers

Despite the fact we are talking about multiple things (ants, ships, singers), the act of collecting them together into a group means they become a single entity. If you remove the singers, ants and ships from the sentences, you’re left with a colony, a fleet and a choir—all of which are easily singular entities.

The colony (of ants) was destroyed in the flood.

A fleet (of ships) is entering the harbour.

The choir (of singers) is heading to London.

So while we are talking about multiple people or things, the act of collecting them together into groups merges them into a singular entity.

How this affects things like companies, bands and sporting teams is a bit of a contested issue, depending on your locality. I covered this in proper nouns.

Eggcorns—commonly misunderstood sayings

We’ve all been there at some point. We’ve heard something said by a peer or on TV or the radio, have understood the meaning and context in which it’s meant to be used, but we misheard exactly how it was said. And since we may not have seen it written down, we simply mimic what we thought we heard the person say. Sometimes, we can get away with it. However, we’re not always so lucky. Instances where we get these words or phrases wrong are called eggcorns (derived from the word ‘acorn’ being misheard, so I am led to believe).
Here are a few examples.

For all intensive purposes

For all intents and purposes means ‘in every practical sense’ or ‘practically speaking’. Despite the fact that ‘for all intensive purposes’ is used widely, it doesn’t make it correct.

“Look, for all intents and purposes, what you have there is nothing short of a copy.”


Regardless of is an idiom that means ‘in spite of’. The birth of the eggcorn ‘irregardless’ comes from the confusion between the words regardless and irrespective, which share the same meaning.

“Regardless of whether you believe he will or not, the Prime Minister did say he would visit the town next week.”

Escape goat

A scapegoat is an individual (or group, generally small in number) singled out and blamed for something they did not do, allowing those who actually did the deed to get off free.

Someone had to be punished for the disturbance, so we found a scapegoat. An example had to be made.

Mute point

A moot point can mean two things, but neither of which involve being muted. Firstly, it could mean a topic open for discussion:

The question of time travel is a moot point among scientists in the field, and will be for some time.

But it can also mean a question that has little or no importance:

“The matter of the missing bouquet is a moot point now that we’ve found this dead body in the pantry!” (Although Miss Marple would probably disagree.)

Nip it in the butt

To ‘nip something in the bud’ is to stop something from happening before it’s had a chance to properly develop. It has nothing to do with injuring bottoms, but instead carries the imagery of chopping down a tree that looks as though it’s going to fall on someone’s house the next time there’s a storm. I luckily never had a problem with this one, thanks to always singing along to Les Miserables.

“One more day to revolution, we will nip in the bud. We’ll be ready for these schoolboys, they will wet themselves with blood!”

In one fowl swoop

Yes. Swooping is bad. In one fell swoop is a phrase that describes many things happening all at once. This saying is quite often used to explain something bad happening, but not exclusively so.

The dragons descended upon the town and, in one fell swoop, they decimated the buildings and all who lived there.

Could care less

I’ve already written an article about this one, but it annoys me so much that it’s worth mentioning twice. If you could care less about something, then you must care a little bit about that something. Whereas if you couldn’t care less about that something, then you’re using proper English.

“I couldn’t care less about your teenage love life, Ash. Please, just stop talking.”

Case and point

Someone would say that X was a ‘case in point’ if it was the perfect example of what was being discussed.

Thomas Bergersen is one of the best composers of his genre and his Illusions album is a case in point. (Seriously, listen to it.)

These are the ones that I come across most often, but if you have any others you’re aware of, let me know, so I can get my blood boiling again!

Expecto patronum!

Ever since Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was gifted to me, I have wondered which form my patronus would take (should I also be gifted the powers of magic and be taught how to use them by Professor Lupin). Being always fond of cats, I had always said proudly that, like Professor Umbridge, my patronus would be a feline of some kind—perhaps a domestic longhair or a speedy cheetah. However, as the years have gone by, I have come to realise that, far from being a powerful African predator that could take down prey twice its size, my patronus would probably be something a great deal less impressive. After all, we can’t all be stags.

I have suffered shyness for most of my life and the stereotypical animal we can associate with this trait is a mouse. It’s hardly an impressive patronus, is it? I certainly wouldn’t be able to take on a horde of dementors with a tiny spectral rodent, no matter how loud it squeaked! But perhaps I’m not really as mousy as I think I am.

A friend asked me the other day whether I related personally to any of the characters in my debut fantasy epic Equilibrium. At first I said, ‘No, not really, because most of them are brave or strong and seem to kill a lot of people,’ but on further reflection, I decided that this initial answer was not quite true. (Someone call the police!)

Most people cannot wear their hearts on their sleeves or say in life what they truly wish to say, for various reasons—sometimes, we are hindered by the fear of attention, consequences, public opinion, being misinterpreted or even of being tongue-tied. So instead, we stay quiet and keep our opinions to ourselves. But then, which person are we, truly? Are we the person on the outside—the personality that everybody else sees and hears—or the person on the inside—boiling with rage or simmering with passion?

While I believe that, once sketched, a writer’s characters can become their own creation—sometimes making their own decisions or fighting against what the writer would wish them to do or say—I also believe that a writer cannot help but inject a small part of themselves into their work by way of ideals or personality. In my case, Equilibrium has been a project I have agonised over since the age of fifteen. It became a part of my life and grew up as I did. Of course, there would be something of me in there, more than just my imagination.

And, indeed, I do sometimes find that my characters become an outlet, to say the things that I would like to say or do the things that I fantasise about doing. In fact, that is one of the reasons I was drawn to writing fantasy in the first place—that sense of freedom, of no boundaries, of characters that could move beyond the restraints of both my own society and theirs. In the same way that I can find escapism in reading, playing computer games, watching movies or listening to music, there is a perfect doorway in writing fantasy; and as long as I have this outlet, the police have nothing to worry about!

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