Collective Nouns for Animals and People

Here is a little more on the collective nouns design. Several people have asked me what inspired the collective nouns wrapping paper and cards. Firstly when my children were small they had a Ladybird book called ‘The Ladybird book of Spelling and Grammar’. This listed a few collective nouns like a murder of crows and a bench of magistrates. They were really fascinated by them especially a crash of rhinoceroses. Then one day I found and bought a copy of  ‘The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England’ by Joseph Stutt in an antique centre called Top Banana in Tetbury. The first edition was published in 1801, mine was published in 1830. This proved to be the most wonderful book with all kinds of information about rural and domestic recreations, May games, mummeries, shows procession pageants and ‘pompous’ spectacles from ‘the earliest period to the present time’. In the first chapter there is a long list of the collective nouns for animals. A harras of horses, a baren of mules, a sloth of bears to name a few. Later I found ‘A Crash of Rhinoceroses’ by Rex Collings which is a marvellous book and gives the origins of so many collective nouns. He lists many collective nouns for people too. With some extra help from my Oxford English Dictionary the cards wrapping paper were listed and ready to print.

‘The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England’ also gives information about the May celebrations. On the 1st May the young people would get up in the very early hours of the morning and walk to some neighbouring wood, blowing horns and singing and would then break down tree branches and cover them in flowers. They would then take them home and decorate their doors and windows. As the sun rose they would then dance round the Maypole in some part of their village or town. The May Day celebrations were not always just on May 1st.  In London they went on for several days with Morris dancers, archery shows and in the evening they performed stage plays and had bonfires in the street. Contemporary writing suggest the May poles were brought home by oxen with flowers decorating their horns. Sometimes the poles were painted in bright colours. A May Queen was appointed each year. There is also mention of dancing milk maids with flower decorated milk pails on their heads. A Lord and Lady of the May presided over the celebrations. Many of these traditions were much older than the 18th century.

There was also the May celebrations of the chimney sweeps of London. They paraded the streets in disguises made from gilt, paper and ‘other mock fineries’. They carried shovels and brushes which they rattled at each other. Sometimes they were accompanied by a Lord and Lady of the May, a fiddler and a Jack of the Green. A Jack of the Green is a made from a wood or wickerwork frame in the form of a pyramid but open at the bottom so a man can hide beneath. The frame is the covered with green leaves and bunches of flowers. The man within then dances, creating a strange dancing pyramid.

Now we seldom see a Maypole. There are still some in operation on May Day throughout England and I spotted one last year in Nailsworth in Gloucestershire. My daughter was born on May 1st so we celebrate that day for other reasons too.

One of our new wrapping paper depicts an etching of an 18th century serving girl who is probably a milkmaid. Sadly there are no flower decorated pails on their heads. I would love to have seen them on May Day all those years ago.

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