My first introduction to measure words was not in English class in school, but many years later, when I was in my 40s, and a friend and I decided on a lark to study Mandarin Chinese. My lessons lasted about 3 years in all, and while I was never what you’d call fluent, if you kept to certain familiar topics, I could struggle through. It was very enjoyable to get a peek into another culture and way of looking at the world, including the concept of measure words. Of course, the teacher explained, we use them in English, too, and she gave the example of “a piece of cake” – piece being the measure word. I was reminded of measure words last Saturday (Oct 18th) when I visited Nature Tales and Camera Trails, and read the post titled “A Cloud of Red-winged Blackbirds”. My first thought was that the word cloud was a poetic metaphor, but Ann went on to explain that “cloud” is the designated word for a grouping of blackbirds. That reminded me of something I’d looked up a few years ago when I came across an oddly titled book, A Murder of Crows. (and more recently a movie by the same title, but I don't know if they're related). Why would a group of crows be a murder? That seems excessively judgemental to me. I like crows. I realize they can be pests now and then, but I think murder is a bit unfair. Then I read that a group of crows will occasionally turn on a dying companion and kill him. Well, is that really crow murder, or more like crow euthanasia? Who can say, and I didn't want to get off topic, so I went online to look for some other measure words. I found quite a few lists available online. Between lists, some of their measure words were similar, some were different, but almost all of them were amusing.
Of course the big question we all want to know is: Who thinks this stuff up??? Some of them do seem to make a little sense, others seem oddly mismatched, still others are downright meshugge. Somebody out there is having a lot of fun! Here, let me show you:
MAKE A LITTLE SENSE An ostentation of peacocks (Hey big boy, are those your tailfeathers or are you just happy to see me?) A shiver of sharks (now we know why they call it a wet suit…) A bloat of hippos (but I’m gonna lose it after the holidays) A tower of giraffes (say, would you pick me up a few dozen packs of throat lozenges when you’re out?) A prickle of porcupines (hey, don’t back up, don’t back up…Owww! You backed up!)
ODDLY MISMATCHED A herd of elephants, but a pod of elephant seals A bevy of roebucks (why not a Sears?) A sloth of bears (don’t know if you can have a bear of sloths),
DOWNRIGHT MESHUGGE A rhumba of rattlesnakes (we thought you were supposed to hold really still…) A bouquet of pheasants (what do you put on the card?) A smack of jellyfish (ever try to smack one? Like nailing Jello to the wall) A business of ferrets (what do you call a ferret breeder? Someone in the business of ferrets business)
ONE MORE FOR GOOD MEASURE And last but not least, a barrel of monkeys. Like you, I always pictured this saying as an old-fashioned wooden barrel, filled with squirming monkeys. I guess that would be fun. But now, NOW it makes sense. They don’t even have to be in a real barrel. They can be anywhere, doing all the fun things that unrestrained monkeys do. Okey doke.
Here’s a couple of sites if you want to pursue this further. Clever persons that you are, you’ve noticed that the measure word in that last sentence is “couple.” Well, after what we’ve seen, that’s just to cotton-pickin’ ordinary. I hereby change it to “mosh.” It’s the first word that popped into my head. Here’s a mosh of sites for you:
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.