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