I was looking through Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage and came across his list of group names for animals and other things, and I remembered that old literary joke about such terms. So I thought I’d list some of the more unusual ones, one day to be used as a short presentation at a dinner or a banquet: a murder of crows, a chattering of starlings, a charm of hummingbirds or finches, a skulk of foxes, a skein of geese, a wedge of swans, a rascal of boys, a dampness of babies, a bogey of golfers (or sometimes a foozle), a surplus of lawyers, a trace of virgins. The joke goes something like this: There were three old college English professors walking down the street one evening. When they spotted a number of hookers on various street corners, one of them suggested they have a contest to see which one could come up with the most appropriate group name for such women of the night. They all thought deeply as they strolled, and then one said, “I believe they should be called a jam of tarts.” The others agreed that was a good one. Then, a few moments later, the second said, “Ah ha! I have it—a flourish of strumpets.” Again they agreed that was good, better than the first. Finally the third one smiled as a thought came to him, “No, I believe I have the winner. They should be called an anthology of pros.” Decidedly a winner.
A few years ago, in The Last Best Hope, Ed McBain mentioned a snatch of hookers, a group name of his own devising. So I wrote him a letter hoping The Last Best Hope wasn’t going to be the last in the Matthew Hope series. I also told him my literary joke and added my own group name on top of his: an Anthony of Trollopes. He wrote back and assured me that Matthew Hope was hanging up his law practice and retiring to lounge in the Florida sun. I miss Matthew Hope. I miss Ed McBain/Evan Hunter/Salvatore Lombino. I miss all the Hopes and the 87th Precincts.