<< back to the archive list

March 1st, 2006

Collective names, and a contest / like for?

by Barbara Wallraff

Philipp Goedicke, of Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: “My thesaurus (Bartlett’s Roget’s) has a lovely list of ‘Collective Names for Creatures,’ such as a ‘gaggle’ of geese and a ‘pride’ of lions. But when I go to my dictionary to verify the more colorful collective names, such as a ‘crash’ of rhinoceroses and a ‘leap’ of leopards, I find nothing. Is my dictionary lacking? Or is my thesaurus overly fanciful? Where does the thesaurus get these names?”

Dear Philipp: Probably from a book called “An Exaltation of Larks,” by James Lipton. The latest edition (1991) gives more than 1,000 collective names. Most of these were invented just for fun — for instance, “a flush of plumbers,” “a stud of poker players” and “a pan of food critics.” But a “crash” of rhinoceroses is “in contemporary use in the ‘Kenya Game Reports,’” according to the book, and a “leap” of leopards can be traced back to the mid-15th century. Neither term is in standard North American use today, though. Your thesaurus is being a bit fanciful.

Speaking of fanciful books filled with invented words, I’ve just published one of my own: “Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words.” Some of the words in the book came from Word Court’s readers. (Thank you! If you sent me a word that appears in the book, I credited you by name.) Besides hundreds of useful and clever words that people have invented, “Word Fugitives” includes a history of coining words for fun, quizzes and advice about how to invent entertaining words.

Who wants to win a free autographed copy of “Word Fugitives”? I’ll send one to the reader who comes up with the best — funniest and most appropriate — collective name for newspaper readers: an “edition” of newspaper readers? An “index” of them? Help me out here! Please write me a letter or send me a “question” or “comment” on my Web site. If more than one person sends me the winning word, I’ll pick one at random to receive the free book. Your deadline for submitting words is a week from today.

Fred Bass, of Clifton Park, N.Y., writes: “What is the purpose of the word ‘for’ in ‘We would like for you to ...’? It sounds awkward to me, yet I hear and see this construction all the time.”

Dear Fred: If we’re talking about good English, that “for” has no purpose. Not only does it sound awkward, as you say, but it’s ungrammatical, just as it is in “We want for you to ...” I suspect that people write or say “for” after they start with “We would like you ...” and then think, “It sounds as if I’m saying I would like them, as in be fond of them, if ...” So they add “for” and goof their sentence up.

In the sentence “I would like you if you bought my book,” the word “you” is a direct object. In “I would like you to buy my book,” it’s an indirect object and “to buy” is the direct object. Either kind of sentence is fine. In “We would like for you ...,” “you” becomes the object of a preposition, and it shouldn’t with the verb “like.” Is getting you to buy the book my object? Oh, not really. But I’ll be happy if you do.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

<< back to the archive list