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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Today At The Zoo ...

It's the last week for the annual light display at the area zoo, so I accepted an invitation to see the lights with two couples with whom I regularly "pal around" and their combined five children. I rode with Ted and his family in their spacious Caravan ... Ted's wife allowed me the honor of the "shotgun" position to accommodate my height. It wasn't a bad 25 minute ride ... thank God their youngest, 20 months (his age, not his name), slept the entire way there ... but there were lots of others out on the same January evening quest, so the lines at the gate were a bit long.

Taking in our destination, I got to thinking about groups and the names we give them. Part of my job is wordsmithing, so dividing up the zoo patrons and giving them labels ... children, kids, teens, adults, men, women, thirtysomethings, baby boomers, genXers, GenYs, seniors, leaders, followers, gays, straights, introverts, extraverts, etc. ... was a simple matter of a few minutes of observation and stereotyping.

Next I thought about the relationships represented. That was more difficult, but I'm sure we had a mix of families, couples, daters, lovers, marrieds, singles, loners, strangers, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

And then I thought about how group descriptors can often have positive and negative connotations. If you met a small group of people introduced to you as a "community" or "clan" or "tribe," I bet many of you would imply strong bonds and common goals. But if that same grouping was labeled as a "gang" or "mob," then you wouldn't be so anxious to shake any hands or make eye contact. Business groups get shackled with both positive (organization, association, co-op, roundtable) and negative (cartel, syndicate, combine, conglomerate) labels, as do religious gatherings (brethren, commune, membership, ministry, cult, sect).

Our "group" finally got inside and walked around the zoo grounds for about 40 minutes when we stopped and bought snacks ... very expensive snacks. As we took a breather to eat, I popped open my new phone and decided to take advantage of my free one month of Web access. I looked up the names of animal groupings. I knew there were some strange ones, but I never realized that the animal kingdom had it so rough.

Lots of the lists I found contained the common labels we all know ... a herd of buffalo, a pride of lions, a school of fish (a derivation of the word "shoal" which is where many types of fish live), a flock of sheep, a pack of wolves, a pod of whales, a swarm of bees, a stable of horses, and a flight of birds. Most of these made perfect sense ... the words themselves described how the animals behaved, traveled, or related to where they lived.

There were also dozens of group names I discovered that were new to me but, again, made sense after some thought ... labels such as a scurry of squirrels, a tower of giraffes, a cackle of hyenas, a streak of tigers, a leap of leopards, a mischief of mice, and a cloud of bats.

And then there were terms for multiples of animals that just made me scratch my head and think "what the hell?!" ... nomenclature like a sleuth of bears (are they trained detectives of just private eyes?), a shrewdness of apes (exceptionally smart, are we?), a coalition of cheetahs (are they really that organized? and is there a phone tree involved?), a crossing of zebras (to go where exactly?), a glare of cats (they do know how to look pissed off), a posse of turkeys (I'll allow it only if they ride horses, carry six shooters, and where tiny leather bird chaps), a chain of bobolinks (it must be where we get the term "chain-bobolink fence"), a smack of jellyfish (against the side of the tank, maybe), and a lounge of lizards. Oh, come on ... that one's just stupid. And there are lots more.

POINT OF RANT: Never make a point of a sleeping baby being a silent blessing, because God will reward you with a screaming curse the entire ride home!!

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