I’ve long been fascinated by names and the naming of things. I was first introduced to the quirks of Latin names through my love of gray squirrels, and indeed Sciurus carolinensis was the first scientific name I learned. Turns out Sciurus derives from the Greek words skia (shade) and uros (tail). The Greeks must have thought that squirrels their tails much like one might find respite from summer heat under the cover of a parasol. They were wrong, but thanks to the convention of naming things, their error is preserved in our scientific lexicon.
Contemporary naturalists seem to have a certain fondness for collective nouns used to describe groups of animals. Being able to call a flock of crows a murder, starlings a murmuration, or vultures a committee is a sure sign of esoteric adeptness when it comes to being naturalist. It’s like the painfully obvious difference (to those in the know) between a tourist (“Bar” for Barre, “Shar-let” for Charlotte) from a Vermonter (“Bare-ee”, “Shar-lot“). There is delight, beyond proving one’s worth in the often ridiculous and colorful phrases. Some are probably grounded in some sense of the animal’s natural history, while others, it appears, are from the fanciful imagination of the 15th century British author Dame Juliana Berners, or at least were first recorded by her. She was the prioress of a nunnery, where she kept up her passion and dedication to fishing, hunting, and other outdoor pursuits. Her book, The Boke of St Albans, is damn near impossible to read (much like Canterbury Tales). It includes three sections – on falconry, hunting, and heraldry. In her section on hunting she publishes a lengthy list (3 pages worth!!) of collective nouns. The most famous to make it from her pen to our vernacular is murder of crows, but the rest are just as inventive.
It might be easy to chalk the lengthy list up to the poetic musings of one more skilled in writing than shooting, but I think Berners, like other hunters, had stories that got bigger and bigger with time: “I once caught a fish th————————-is big.” I imagine that sport hunting was a hobby for the finer and fancier of folks, a well-educated bunch that would lounge around the hearth in their parlors recounting hunting tales from days of yore. “If you think today was good, you should’ve been here yesterday, we caught a suit of mallards, a muster of peacocks, a covey of partridges, and a bevy of girls.”
Language reflects what’s important to the culture that uses it. Thus, the Yup’ik Eskimos, for example, use the word kanevvluk for fine snow particles, natquik for drifting snow, aniu for snow on the ground, and have other distinct lexemes (like a root word) for variations of snow. So if your culture values hunting and the pride that comes with it you might expect a distinct lexicon to accompany it, much like any subculture develops its own language to describe shredding the gnar, sick pow-pow, etc.