Donna Dewhurst


One could make the argument that bears seem slothful while sleeping, but once awake, they are eating machines. Photo by Donna Dewhurst. Chances are you’ve heard of a “murder” of crows, but what about a “parliament” of owls or an “asylum” of loons? As a naturalist, I decided to research the origins of these unusual terms. What I found in many cases was unexpected, a reflection on how language often incorporates humor and the human perspective. First of all, a collective noun in the English language for a group of animals is called a “term of venery” with the original meaning related to Medieval hunting. The oldest reference is The Book of Saint Albans, an essay on hunting, published in 1486. One of my favorite names tracks back to that reference, where a group of bears is called a “sloth.” Sloth comes from the Middle English adjective “slow” and is…