You know it’s a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, and a murder of crows (shudder). You’ve heard about an embarrassment of pandas. But what do you call a group of cats? As it turns out, the answer to that question is more complex than you might think.
A group of cats is most commonly called a clowder. How did this word come to describe a group of kitties? According to some sources, the word “clowder” comes from the word “clodder,” which is a Middle English word that means a “clotted mass.” A group of four or more cats may also be known as a glaring, though this term is used less frequently.
What About a Group Of Wild Or Feral Cats?
You may have heard of a colony of feral cats. A colony of cats typically lives together in the same location and shares the same food source. However, not every group of wild or feral cats is a colony. Another word to describe such a group of cats is a destruction. As you may be able to guess from the name, feral or wild cats can become quite territorial, and sometimes destructive, when fending for themselves.
What About a Group Of Kittens?
Like other animals, a group of kittens is known as a litter if they share the same mother. More specifically, a group of kittens can also be called a kindle. The word “kindling” in Old English means to bear young, which is where the word is thought to have come from. An “intrigue” is another word used to describe a group of kittens, though you are unlikely to hear it very often in regular vernacular.
What Do You Call a Single Cat?
As if all of these words weren’t confusing enough, there are specific words for a single cat of either sex—think doe or buck for deer. While the words doe or buck are fairly common in English vernacular, you may be less familiar with the word molly, which is the word for a single female cat. It is unknown where exactly the name molly came from. If you happen to have a female cat who is pregnant, she is no longer a molly but a queen.
The male counterpart, tomcat, is much more commonly known thanks to male cats in popular culture, such as Tom Cat of Tom & Jerry and Thomas O’Malley, the romancing tomcat in the animated movie The Aristocats. The name “tomcat” actually originated in pop culture; it was popularized thanks to a mid-eighteenth century children’s book titled The Life and Adventures of a Cat, in which one of the cats was named Tom.
Why Do Groups Of Animals Have Special Names?
That’s a lot of terms to remember for one species. Of course, it is acceptable and understandable if you simply want to call a group of cats what it is: a group of cats. Why do these special terms exist to name groups of animals, anyway?
These collective nouns are called “terms of venery,” and they date back to the Middle Ages. In the 1400s, a book entitled The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Heraldry, also known as the Book of St. Albans, was published. The book contains several nouns that identify various animal groups. The words were created to give language to the tradition of hunting, which was very much a centerpiece of society at the time. Though superficial, this hunting language helped a member of the court show their experience and knowledge of hunting, which translated to being a good knight. Imagine that: you might not actually be good at hunting, but at least you know what a clowder is! The origin story of terms of venery serves as an excellent reminder of the power of language to make an impression and convey information.
There are several words that can describe groups of cats, including groups of feral cats and groups of kittens. To make matters even more confusing, there are even words to describe individual cats (beyond the word “cat”)! While it’s fun to know these terms of venery, you are unlikely to be corrected or judged if you do not use them today. Save what you learned for a dinner party and see if anybody else can guess the various names for individuals and groups of cats!
Featured Image Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay