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A CHOICE OF WORDS SETH L. HABER* A lifetime ofexperiences, coupled with our own individual prejudices, has caused each of us to respond differently to that overwhelming annual superfluity of literature in biology and medicine to which whole forests of innocent trees are sacrificed each year. In fact, it's got to the point where some scientists can no longer see the former for the latter. "Respectful silence" probably characterizes the response of the largest and most desirable group. Although its members make no effort to publish on their own, they do read widely and appreciatively. Their subscriptions help to pay for thejournals to which others contribute with such high expectations. There are still, after all, a few valuable "original contributors." Then, there are the "review writers," who tend to compile extensive charts, lists, and graphs of the contributions of others. Either through disinclination or inability, the articles contained in these reviews are often not adequately evaluated by the compilers. Perhaps fittingly, such reviews are often read by those too lazy or busy to do their own digging in the library or searching of computerized data bases. The third group, in which I claim at least current membership, is composed of the "nitpickers," who dwell upon small points that can easily be enlarged. It is they who can make mountains out of minutiae (of which there are both bovine and equine varieties). Parenthetically, members of the latter two groups often fare quite well before academic appointment committees, the putativer/ unqualified members of which merely count the number of articles in one's personal bibliography, rather than evaluating them. To fellow review writers and nitpickers, language can assume major importance. Impressed with the entropy-like phenomenon of reducing language to, like, the least possible number of words, ifyou know what I ?Department of Pathology, The Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, 900 Kiely Boulevard , Santa Clara, California 95051.© 1987 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/87/3004-0539$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 30, 4 · Summer 1987 \ 523 mean, many of us mourn the passing of accurate nouns of multitude. Words like a "couple," a "few," and a "lot" have been applied to all sorts of things, perhaps indiscriminately. Now, having picked my nit, I offer this review—to appreciative cognoscenti , of course. Subsequent reviews in this series will deal with the proper terminology for the male, female, and young of different animals and a set of several dozen rules or explanations ofwhy things seem to go wrong when and as they do. But, for now, back to nouns of multitude. First, to the birds. Small birds are a dissimulation. In general, they are a flock, a congregation, a flight, a volery, or an aviary. The nightingales that sing you to sleep are a watch. Several rooks are a building or a clamor, hawks a cast, snipes a walk or a wisp, quail or larks a bevy, grouse a brood or a cover, pheasants a nide, and partridges a covey. Peacocks, as we all know, are an ostentation, a muster, or a pride. Plover are a stand. In flight, ducks are a team or a skein, a paddling on the water, or a brace if only a pair. Mallards, in particular, are a flush, a paddling, a sord, or a sute. Geese on the water are a gaggle, a flight, otherwise. Herons are a siege, where'er they may be. Eagles (bald or hirsute) are a convocation. Parrots are a flock, but I have heard one individual bird referred to as "a nasty fowl-mouthed bustard." Cormorants are a flight. Ravens are an unkindness, and crows are a murder (most fowl?). Swans are a herd, a team, a bank, or a wedge. Turkeys are a rafter. Starlings aggregate as a murmuration, larks an exaltation, turtledoves a pitying, and goldfinches a charm. Woodcock are a fall or flight, woodpeckers a descent, and wooden legs a thump. Any of the beasts can be referred to as a menagerie. But, it's the individual group names that help to make venery the best game in town although, in this sense at least, "venery" refers to hunting and the pursuit of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 523-526
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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