Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Collective Term for Kittens?

That's easy! I hear you cry.
The collective term for a group of kittens is obvious. The answer is, "A litter of kittens."


The correct term is a "Kindle of kittens".
This name is much older than the word litter, and first appears in connection with those bundles of cuteness we call kittens in the The Book of St Albans.

The Book of St Albans was a sort of Middle Age gentleman's almanac. Printed in 1486 it was perhaps more accurately known as The Book of Hunting, Hawking, and Blasing of Arms, which gives you a glimpse into what the priorities were of a well-heeled gent in the 15th century.

It seems likely the word's derivation comes from a Middle English word, kindelen, meaning to give birth to. In turn, this word probably come from an even older Norse word with the same meaning, kynda.

These days the word kindle is used more as a verb, meaning to set light to or to grow excitement. (Or, depending on your generation your thoughts may skip straight to a reading device.)

So here's a little test.
What are the collective terms for the following: (Answers at the end – No peeking!)

A)     Buffalos
B)     Bears
C)     Ferrets
D)     Rhinoceroses
E)      Giraffes

A)     Not, it's not a herd of buffalos (that's what I would have said), but an obstinacy.
B)     Bears – I've never given this much thought before, but the answer is:- a sloth of bears
C)     Before you say firkin ferrets (think about it), the correct response is a business of ferrets
D)     The term for a group of rhinoceroses is very descriptive: a crash
E)      And last but not least, a tower of giraffes

Wednesday 22 October 2014

The Collective Term for a Group of Cats?

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know I'm a "mad cat lady" in training. I love anything and everything to do with cats. Whilst waiting for my son to meet me in Waterstones, Birmingham (bearing in mind we live near London, this happened to be our easiest to-get-to bookstore – but that's a whole different story), I discovered a charming book about collective nouns. 

If you mentally switched off at the mention of "nouns" (and by default, grammar) fear not! This post is about cuteness not clauses, and can be read by those phobic about punctuation. So, onwards! Let's answer those all important questions such as…

What is the Correct Term for a Group of Cats?
Yes, it made me pause (or paw-se.) To my shame I'd never stopped wonder what a group of cats is called – sometimes I amaze even myself!

According to Chloe Rhodes(*), there are two early mentions of the collective noun for cats.  A manuscript from 1450, the Egerton Manuscript, "a  clouder of cats." Whilst in 1476 a list found at the end of "Horse, Sheep, and Goose" states "a cluster of tame cats."

Three terms seem to be in use in the Middle Ages (which raises questions in my mind about how often a group of cats pops up in conversation) and these are clowder, cluster, and clutter. It seems likely that these words have a common origin, possibly an Old English word, clott, meaning a mass of objects stuck together.

Hmm, not sure it's how I would have described a group of cats – more like an "independence of cats" in my book. Perhaps a better term is one found in the Harley Manuscript which sites "a glorying of cats." That's more like it! The term glorying is also interchangeable with glaryn, meaning to shine brightly, which at a push could describe cats eyes glowing in the darkness.

Next week: A litter of kittens? I think not! Find out the proper term for a cuteness/ confection of kittens.

Fellow cat lovers, leave your suggestions of a fitting term to describe a group of cats.
(*) An Unkindness of Ravens. Chloe Rhodes. Michael O'Mara books.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Object 22542: The Unlucky Mummy

After seeing yet another re-run of "The Mummy" on the TV, today's post is about the "Unlucky Mummy".
The Unlucky Mummy
as featured on the cover of Pearson's magazine in 1909
The Unlucky Mummy's story starts way back in Ancient Egypt but we pick up the thread in the 1860s. At this time an adventurer and explorer, Douglas Murray, bought himself a mummy.

Murray purchased an ancient artefact, the inner coffin lid of a high-ranking female in Egyptian society, suspected to be a Priestess of Amen-Ra. That this artefact had a reputation for bringing ill fortune to whoever owned it, didn't bother Murray in the least. Which perhaps it should because the very next day he accidentally shot his own arm off!

Shortly after this, call it co-incidence, but a string of unfortunate accidents befell three Egyptian porters, all of whom had recently handled the sarcophagus. Enough was enough, and Murray gave away his recent acquisition.

However, it didn't take long for the new owner to experience bad luck. He can't have been fond of his sister because he gifted the mummy to her! The sister, Mrs. Warwick-Hunt sounds a practical sort and she commissioned an occultist to exorcise any malign spirits. But this didn't go to plan when the occultist decreed that the evil was too strong for her, and advised Mrs. Warwick-Hunt, if she valued her health, to move the artefact on.

Mrs. Warwick-Hunt then made the sensible deduction that an august institution such as the British Museum was far too lofty to worry about superstition. She donated the mummy to them.

But the Priestess of Amen-Ra wasn't done with her curses, and on the way to the British Museum, the vehicle carrying the sarcophagus careered off the road and struck a pedestrian. Once at the museum, a laborer broke his leg whilst unloading the artefact…and yet another worker died a short time later under mysterious circumstances…
The British Museum
The mummy settled in as "Object 22542" but to the public she became known as "The Unlucky Mummy". Perhaps her reputation preceded her, when a night watchman reported hearing scrabbling noises coming from inside the coffin. A journalist, thinking it would make a good story, took a photo. But he got more than he bargained for when the photograph was developed and showed a human face. The poor man subsequently lost his mind and shot himself.

Time for the Unlucky Mummy to move on again. This time she was sold to an American archaeologist who planned to transport this Egyptian wonder back to his home country. With this in mind he arranged urgent passage on the next available ship…the RMS Titanic.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Musings on 18th Century Portraits and Coins

 Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the "First Georgians" exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace Mews. It was an enjoyable (if slightly disjointed) display that left me faintly frustrated. However, to dwell on the positive, two portraits on display in the first chamber inspired me to write today's blog post. 

The first portrait was of Queen Anne, whose death in August 1714 paved the way for the "first Georgian", George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, to ascend to the English throne. As much as anyone can, living in such elegant splendour, Queen Anne had a tragic life marked by 17 pregnancies, none of which provided a healthy living heir. 
The portrait of Queen Anne
I found the portrait of this somewhat matronly lady, who yet lacked a brood of children, somehow moving. And it put a new twist on the picture when I read it was painted to provide a likeness for coinage. 

Gold coins in circulation during Queen Anne's reign
Indeed, the next portrait was of her successor, King George I - and again, this picture was used to mint coins bearing his likeness. The painting was executed by Sir Godfrey Kneller and was intended to show the new king in regal glory as "Defender of Faith". 

Portrait of King George I
The results of this were on display in a separate cabinet

Is it just me, or is the coin more flattering
than the painting?
OK, there you have it, my favourite objects from the exhibition, which leads me neatly onto some Royal Mint trivia. 
From 1300 to 1812 (encompassing the period when Anne and George's coins were minted) the Royal Mint was sited within the curtain wall of the Tower of London, in Mint Street
The Tower of London with the Shard in the background.
Behind this outer wall lay Mint Street
The houses built into the outer wall that once made up the Mint, are called the Casemates. In the 18th century coal and precious metals were stored there, are well as housing the machinery for making coins. In the present day they are now home to the Yeoman Warders and and their families. 
The view on the other side of the wall.
Looking down Mint Street at the Casemates

One of the most famous Wardens of the Mint was Sir Isaac Newton (famous for his theory on gravity) who held the post for 28 years from 1696. 
Standing beside the Casemates looking inwards to the Tower
Sir Isaac's job was to investigate cases of counterfeiting and it was he moved the currency standard from silver to gold in 1717.