"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Friday, 26 August 2011

A Charm of Starlings


The collective noun for Starlings is a charm. I could think of no less appropriate term for a flock of raucous, squabbling unattractive birds. However upon reading Richard Jeffries' 'Wildlife in a Southern County' all is revealed:-
On approaching it this apparent cloud is found to consist of thousands of starlings, the noise of whose calling to each other is indescribable - the country folk call it a 'charm', meaning a noise made up of innumerable lesser sounds, each interfering with the other. The vastness of these flocks is hardly credible until seen; in winter the bare trees on which they alight become suddenly quite black.


  1. Like you I've always thought it was a wholly inappropriate term. Given that the meaning of 'charm' from which it hails has long since fallen into desuetude perhaps a new one should be 'invented'. Ideas?

  2. A charm of starlings! I really like this. I once wrote about a "murmuration of starlings."

  3. You might enjoy reading "An Exaltation of Larks or, the Venereal Game" by James Lipton. If you haven't already read it, in it you will find some very interesting information and I thought, fun facts, about the English language...Also, it is a parliament of owls and a murder of crows among many others!

    1. Thanks Jackie. I have read it -a great book. I love all those collective nouns. Even as a tiny child I remember learning some of them from a little book called something like 'The Everyday Companion'. I think GB may still have that book - I must look next time I visit him.