Why do English speakers say, "A pack of dogs" when refering to a number of dogs together, but always refer to puppies as "a litter of puppies"? Is it the random quirkiness of our spoken language?
Would you believe such sayings have a tangible history, and have been planned?
This is the topic of James Lipton's sometimes humorous but always classic book, An Exaltation of Larks. If you've ever the privledge of watching the actor's studio, then you know of James Lipton--one of television's finest interviews and hosts.
In 1968, he wrote a book about the beauty and flexibility of the English language called an Exaltation of Larks. It is a study of the English-speaking tradition of coupling words to describe a set, where both words indicate the same thing, such as "a rope of pearls" and "a school of fish."
For the first part of the book, Mr. Lipton list the more common phrases and the research that has gone into finding out their meaning--where, for instance, "a pride of lions" originated and how long ago it was first used. (The oldest in the English langauge, apparently!)
Where the 1968 edition--which has never been out of print--had only had 118 pages and 175 terms, the Ultimate edition has 300 pages and 1,100 terms.
This would make a very fine gift for any Anglophile, artist, writer or comic. Witty, warm, and extremely observant, with clever line illustrations; a plus to any friend's library or your own.