Browsing in a gift store the other day, I came across a shelf devoted to mice. There were mice figurines, plates with mouse pictures, tea towels covered with images of mice and mice earrings, to name a few. Over it all was a sign that read “Mischief of Mice.” The term was so apt I chuckled, then went home and looked it up. In fact, the collective noun for a group of mice is “mischief” so the shop owner had it right.
The English language is blessed with over a million words, yet most of us have a vocabulary of about 20,000 to 35,000 words. Even then we tend to use only about 50% of that vocabulary on a regular basis. According to a study done by The Economist in 2013, native speakers learn one new word a day until middle age, then no new words are added. A curious fact, given that our technical world is adding new words at a rocketing rate. When did Google become a verb?
Another finding in that same study cheers the heart of a romance writer. People who read lots of fiction have a larger vocabulary than those who read lots of non-fiction. When you think about it, that makes sense. We fiction writers need to use language imaginatively to make our stories clear and entertaining. We want to touch the heart, stir the soul and challenge the mind. That takes a lot of nuance, stretching our vocabulary. Did our hero walk, stride, stroll, amble, stomp, race . . .? The word used makes a difference! Someone writing a technical paper needs far fewer words to describe his experiment.
I confess to being middle-aged, but I resolve not to stop learning new words. For a start, here are some collectives that tickle my funny bone. Look for them in my writing.
Mischief of Mice
Romp of Otters
Scold of Jays
Storytelling of Ravens (Does that mean of group of writers is a Raven of storytellers?)
Murder of Lawyers