The Group Noun

To start your weekends out on a humorous note, I came across this joke in my digital photo shoebox. My Dad cut it out of a magazine several decades ago, and I’ve always loved it:

The Group Noun

Perhaps the story was old, but it was sweeping through academic circles:

Four dons were walking down an Oxford street one evening. All were philologists and members of the English department. They were discussing group nouns: a covey of quail, a pride of lions, an exaltation of larks.

As they talked, they passed four ladies of the evening. The dons did not exactly ignore the hussies — in a literary way, that is. One of them asked: “How would you describe a group like that?”

Suggested the first: “A jam of tarts?”

The second: “A flourish of strumpets?”

The third: “An essay of Trollope’s?”

Then the dean of the dons, the eldest and most scholarly of them all, closed the discussion: “I wish that you gentlemen would consider ‘An anthology of pros.'”

A Google search indicates it was originally printed in the Sept. 19, 1955 issue of Time Magazine, but I think Dad’s copy was a reprint from a few decades later. That or he was a very erudite 10 year old!

Update 11/4/06: An update from my Dad: “Interesting bit of sleuthing you’ve done. In fact, at age 12 (at least approximately), I had to rely on others for my erudition, in this case coming from my father. He was absolutely ecstatic about this particular joke when he came upon it during his reading of Time, and after some explanation, I quickly became appreciative myself and clipped it out of the magazine.”