One of wonders of the English language is that there’s a specific – and usually colorful – term for multitudes that pertain to every occupation or type of creature. You’ve probably heard of a congregation of worshipers, a fleet of ships, a school of fish and a pride of lions. And if you’re a word nerd like me, you might’ve also heard the terms cowardice of curs or clouder of cats.
But what’s a good term for more than one grandmother? In a moment of idle curiosity I asked my son this question, as I was doting as usual on his baby daughter (who, I might add, is fortunate to have two very involved sets of grandparents).
“How about a smother?” my son replied without missing a beat.
A smother of grandmothers? The term is catchy, if a bit insulting. And even though it’s a new one, it just might catch on, like the term coined in 1970 by actor, producer and academic James Lipton – a slouch of models.
As the models clearly illustrate, these “multitude” terms tend to mirror characteristics of the group they describe.
Can’t you just picture a trembling of goldfinches, with their wings fluttering and hearts beating fast? And isn’t it easy to feel the joy of an exaltation of larks, or see the stately gravity of a parliament of owls?
An ostentation of peacocks, a leap of leopards and a crash of rhinoceroses are all pretty self-explanatory. And I’m sure there’s a story behind a deceit of lapwings and an unkindness of ravens.
But a smother of grandmothers? It makes me picture kindly old ladies descending on an innocent baby, cooing and clutching the hapless child to their pillowy bosoms after wrapping the helpless infant in layers of hand-knitted and crocheted blankets.
And just how many grandmothers comprise a smother? Is two enough, or do you need a bevy of them?
I know my son thinks he’s being funny. But he’d do well to reflect on another group of birds – crows – who collect in a murder.
I’ll bet crows assembled in perfectly charming groups at one time, till one of their chicks made one-too-many wise-cracks. Indignant cawing probably ensued, which must’ve gotten a little threatening – enough to earn the much-maligned birds the “murder of crows” tag.
Take a lesson, parents. Tick off a group of grandmothers and who knows what’ll happen.
After thinking it over, I guess I’m proud to be part of a smother. To my way of thinking, a smother of grandmothers can only mean more love for grandchildren. And unlike a nest of vipers or a swarm of insects, a smother of grandmothers is one multitude that some people may actually welcome.
Images: Mary Cassatt’s print (interior of a tramway passing a bridge, 1891) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; peacock photo via Visual hunt; crow photo via Visualhunt.com; innocent baby laughing by D. Sharon Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons.