A chowder of cats, a knot of toads ...

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RECENTLY I had a conversation while sitting on the bench down at the bus stop with an old codger who was eating an ice cream cone. He said, ``Every day in my backyard we have a murder of crows.''

``Murder of crows?'' I queried, wishing the ice cream wouldn't drip on the front of his new sport shirt. ``What kind of murder is that?''

``Murder,'' he said. ``Back home that means a whole bunch of crows.''

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I can't say much for the rest of the conversation, which was mostly about how the hair was coming out of his cat. But his comments reminded me of a time I went to a friend's house for dinner. While the guests waited to be served, the young six-year-old daughter came in and said, ``Hello. Tonight we have a chowder of cats.''

The faces of all the guests turned a shade whiter than the tablecloth. Then I recalled something out of the mishmash of what I waggishly call a memory.

``I think what she means,'' I said, with an important resonance creeping into my voice, ``is that she has a clowder of cats - or a clutter. It means a bunch of - like a gaggle of geese.''

Later in the evening it was a relief to find a box of five small kittens in the garage, although by this time they were calling them a ``kindle.''

Driving home, one of the men in the car said, ``I never heard the word clowder, but,'' he added proudly, ``I've heard of a pod of whales. Pod, that's a real word.''

His wife added her bit. ``Down on the farm we used to say we had a clutch of chicks. That's a real word, too. It's in the dictionary.''

She was right, of course. But I know there are a lot of unlisted plural words, more uncommon than flock (sheep), drove (cattle), covey (quail), or yoke (oxen), because my uncle used to refer to a knot of toads.

But a murder of crows?

Maybe he's right. Though some of these old geezers like to pull one's leg a bit.

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