Monday, June 1, 2009

Are boogles real? from Sandy

Dear Word Spy,

I read recently on a number of websites that a group of weasels is called a 'boogle'. Lots of groups of animals have strange names but this is the funniest one I have found. I was disappointed when I looked it up in my dictionary (The Macquarie Dictionary) - it wasn't there. Is it a real word and how can I tell in future if a word is real or not?

:) Sandy, who thinks boogle is a great word anyway!!! *grin*

Dear Sandy,

I have to say I've never heard of a boogle! There are quite a few words like this for groups of animals - they're known as "collective nouns". Some of them you will definitely find in the dictionary, like a flock of sheep, or a mob of kangaroos. (You can all think of others, I'm sure.)

But it's true, the stranger, funnier ones, like a “leap of leopards” or a "glaring of cats" or a "boogle of weasels" you probably won't find in a dictionary. The reason is they are not words that anybody really uses, but have been made up by people just for fun. Playing with words like this goes way back at least to the fifteenth century to "The Book of St Albans", which lists a whole lot of invented collective nouns. Have you heard of a pity of prisoners, or a float of crocodiles? Or a prickle of porcupines, for example?

So I guess, in a way, probably boogle is not exactly a "real" word. A word is only put in the dictionary when enough people use it and understand it. But you never know, if you keep throwing boogle into enough of your sentences, maybe more people will catch on, and eventually maybe you will open up the dictionary under "B" and there it will be!

In the meantime, I must go now and close the window - there's such a pandemonium of parrots out in the tree I can hardly think...

your pal, the Word Spy

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