[Humanist] 25.371 collective noun?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Oct 13 07:24:56 CEST 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 371.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2011 13:31:35 +1100
        From: "Ken Friedman" <KenFriedman at groupwise.swin.edu.au>
        Subject: Advice on collective nouns


This is a request for help on one of those odd topics where members of the Humanist list so often seem to know a great deal. 

A recent meeting of deans found us searching for the collective noun for deans. A search for experts on English brought me to you, and I hope that in your work on lexicology and etymology, you might have come across such a word.

One of the deans present did a Google search to find the words "decanter" and "decorum." This did not seem right to me, so I did some checking. Most of the web sites I find on Google are amateur sites, and the lists of collective nouns I found were filled with errors. If a source has many errors on other collective nouns, I don't see the source as reliable on this word. 

The logic of labeling a group of deans as a "decanter" or a "decorum" could be a pop etymology follow-on from the Latin term for dean, decanus. That doesn't mean that these words are not used as collective nouns for dean, but it could be the case that someone invented words that have spread from list to list in the same way that false Wikipedia facts take on life when Wikipedia cites poor sources and other sources cite Wikipedia. Neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor Webster's gives the terms decanter or decorum such usage. 

If anyone on The Humanist could shed light on this topic or direct me to a reliable reference work on collective nouns, I'd be most grateful.

Thank you.

Ken Friedman

Professor Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | University Distinguished Professor | Dean, Faculty of Design | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia | kenfriedman at groupwise.swin.edu.au | Ph: +61 3 9214 6078 | Faculty www.swinburne.edu.au/design

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