By Bob Halstead

I had the pleasure of photographer Doug Seifert’s company a while back when we dived together for an adventurous month on MV Golden Dawn in PNG. He showed me a splendid article he had published on sharks. In the text he used the collective noun for sharks – something I did not know, and you may not have heard of either. But it is a beauty – a “SHIVER” of sharks.

The authority on collective nouns is James Lipton, whose book “An Exaltation of Larks” was first published in 1968. Doug sent me a copy – it is still in print today, published by Penguin Books.

It is a fascinating read, for example if whaling ships meet they are a GAM of whalers, but the word was also used to denote a playful group of whales. POD is correct for a small group of whales (but never use a SCHOOL of whales) or for a POD of seals. Then we have a BALE of turtles, a SMACK of Jellyfish, an ARMY of herring, a SCUTTLE of crabs, and a KETTLE of fish – or perhaps a FINE KETTLE of fish when diving Papua New Guinea!

Reading further I was charmed by the author’s account of his hunt for collective nouns and his invitation to contribute where no present collective noun exists. Then I realised there is no collective noun for divers!

Doug and I thought of a few possibilities, then I asked diving friends for their suggestions – and now I am putting it to you. Here are some of the better suggestions, if you have a bright idea, or if any of the ones below are your favourite, please let me know. The diving world depends on us!

A GURGLE of divers or
DOWN; FIN …. of divers.

I admit, I think ASYLUM of divers is totally appropriate, most landlubbers think we are crazy.

I am sure you are all familiar with “a SWARM of bees”, but perhaps not so sure of the difference between swarm and school when applied to fishes. In a SCHOOL of fish the fish align themselves in roughly parallel formation with individuals slightly behind the fish in front. In a SWARM of fish individuals are randomly positioned. Strangely, research has shown that schools are actually led from the rear (as are good armies). A SHOAL means the same, I believe, as a SCHOOL, but is usually in shallow water thus looking like an area of shoaling water.

Some fish school only when it is a survival advantage for them to do so and are termed “facultative” schoolers. Other fish school compulsively – even if only two fish are together they will line up with one slightly behind – and these are known as “obligatory” schoolers.

At other times fish may group together in “aggregations” rather than schools or swarms – hammerheads and mating groupers come to mind.

Since we are all about words today I will finish with the difference between fish and fishes. Fish refers to one fish, or to more than one fish when all the fish are of the SAME species. Fishes is the term used when more than one fish of DIFFERENT species are referred to. At least this is how all the Ichthyologists that I have ever met refer to them, and how the Oxford English Dictionary used to refer to them. But it has all changed.

I know this because I was asked to write a chapter in a book on Oceans to be called “The World of Fish”. I complained and said it should be called “The World of Fishes”. They insisted, so I wrote to the OED, expecting confirmation. Alas, OED told me, they try not to be proscriptive (and say how a word should be used), they instead are descriptive, and say how a word is generally being used today. According to them, people just don’t use “fishes” any more; they use “fish” for everything.

Unless you belong to PETA in which case you use “Sea Kitten” – but that is another story.

In other words they have given in to all the phallcephalites using the word incorrectly! Don’t let it be you!





 Posted by at 4:21 pm