Classifiers come in many varieties.[1] Many languages have them. Chinese has words like "本" (ben) used for books and similar nouns, 條 (tiao) for long, skinny things, etc. Vietnamese has corresponding words like cuốn = 本, cây ~= 條 and so on. In most languages that use classifiers, they seem to convey the common attributes of the class' members. In English, many collective classifiers seem to be "repurposed" words like "murder of crows", "pride of lions" and so on. Is this unique to English, and how did this come to be?

[1]: "English Classifier Constructions", Adrienne Lehrer, 1985.

  • 2
    Chinese classifieds are also repurposed nouns. The English ones you mention (terms of venery) are deliberately humorous, but they’re based on the basic classifier pattern also found in more straightforward cases like ‘piece of paper’, ‘glass of wine’, ‘case of wine’, ‘group of people’. Sep 9, 2020 at 15:37
  • 7
    Most of the funnier English terms of venery go back to the Book of Saint Albans. They were a popular style of joke for a while, based on the fashionability of the non-funny ones which mainly served as markers of erudition; they're deliberately unusual so the person using them looks clever for knowing them.
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 9, 2020 at 17:06
  • See venereal terms
    – jlawler
    Sep 9, 2020 at 23:12


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