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A Drudge of Lexicographers: Collective Nouns, and Who Decides Them SOLD OUT

Sunday 10 April 2016

1 Hour


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Ticket price

Resident lexicographer on Channel 4’s Countdown Susie Dent looks at why our quaint collective nouns were chosen more than 500 years ago and why they have survived so long.

What’s the collective noun for x animal? must be one of the questions most frequently put to a lexicographer. Be it a ‘memory of elephants’ or a ‘pandemonium of parrots’, we revel in the answers and dare to invent our own – the only dull thing about collective nouns is their name. But who decides them?  English is both democratic and the fastest-moving language in the world, yet when it comes to collective nouns our sources are medieval manuals on the language of the hunt.  Why is it that terms chosen over 500 years ago have survived this long? And what inspires the affection we continue to hold for them?  The search for the answer illuminates not only the medieval imagination, but also how and why our words survive.

Dent is a writer and broadcaster on language. She is best known for her work in Dictionary Corner on Channel 4’s Countdown, where she has made more than 2,500 appearances and is the longest-serving member of the show. She is also author of How to Talk Like a Local and What Made the Crocodile Cry? 101 Questions about the English Language.

Presented by the Bodleian Libraries

This event is part of the festival’s women in society programme sponsored by HSBC.