Q: Why is a group of crows called a “murder” instead of a flock?
—Dave Palmer, Sandy Springs
A: Officially, a group of crows is a flock and the word “murder” is a poetic term used in literature that originated in England in the 15th century, according to various sources. The website for the PBS documentary called “A Murder of Crows” states there are “different explanations for the origin of this term, mostly based on old folk tales and superstitions.” One states that crows often will come together and “decide the capital fate of another crow.” Another possible origin comes from people who view the “appearance of crows as an omen of death.” Also, the phrase “murder of crows” comes from a time in history when groups of animals were described in different ways, according to the documentary’s website. James Lipton, the creator and host of “Inside the Actors Studio,” wrote a book called “An Exaltation of Larks,” which is described as a “classic collection of collective nouns” that includes more than 1,100 “resurrected or newly minted contributions.” In addition to murder of crows, it includes poetic terms such as a ostentation of peacocks, a smack of jellyfish, a parliament of owls and a skulk of foxes. Kevin J. McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology wrote on his website that no scientist would call it a murder of crows. “Scientists would call it a flock,” he wrote.
Andy Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (include name, phone and city).