Initially, I misjudged James Lipton’s quirky and curious book, An Exaltation of Larks, missing the playful and fanciful element. When I read that a group of elk is called a gang, I felt only unalloyed disgust. Perhaps among flabby academicians, elk are referred to as gangs. But, I live among muscular mountain men who would laugh in derision at that term. Or fix you with a questioning stare. We sometimes take ourselves too seriously, precious.
This book didn’t grab me until I started from the beginning.
The dedication: For my mother, Betty Lipton, who showed me the way to words. (Swoon. I want my kids to say that some day.)
I loved the Preface best, packed with collectable, copy-worthy quotes.
The heart and soul of this book is the concern that our language, one of our most precious natural resources, is also a dwindling one that deserves at least as much protection as our woodlands, wetlands and whooping cranes.
And this from Elizabeth Drew:
Language is like soil. However rich, it is subject to erosion, and its fertility is constantly threatened by uses that exhaust its vitality. It needs constant re-invigoration if it is not to become arid and sterile. Poetry is one great source of the maintenance and renewal of language.
This is the sort of book that fits well in a bathroom. Read a page, put it down.
Lipton encourages the reader to join a game, coming up with new collective nouns. The groups that tickled my fancy the most were the medical professions (a joint of osteopaths) and music (a pound of pianists, a bridge of lyricists). Not to mention a load of diapers or a twaddle of public speakers.
Some terms are so familiar we don’t see them as collective terms, as in Shakespeare’s a comedy of errors and a sea of troubles (from Hamlet). The book of Hebrews gives us cloud of witnesses. Does that joggle you linguistically like it does me?
The greatest challenge facing me is that of identification. Before I learn the collective terms [murmuration, charm, exaltation, murder, unkindness and dule] I need to learn to distinguish starlings, finches, larks, crows, ravens and doves.